PITTSFIELD -- A proposal that would allow eligible senior citizens to work off as much as $1,000 from their property tax bills was hammered out in draft form Monday by the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Subcommittee.
The proposal, which involves accepting a state law enacting such a program and developing specific guidelines for Pittsfield, was referred back to the full council for further review.
Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont, who suggested the program, had prepared a draft plan that included income and eligibility guidelines. Clairmont said he did so after researching options and talking to an employee in a community that has adopted the provision, which is specified in Chapter 59, Section 5K of state tax law.
His fellow committee members expressed concerns about the potential scope and cost of the program and how seniors ages 60 or older would be selected. Clairmont proposed a lottery selection for those meeting the income levels, but committee Chairwoman and Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said she would prefer that selection be based on need.
After much discussion and consultation with Paula J. King, chairwoman of the Board of Assessors, the committee decided to adopt as a baseline the income guidelines under a different program -- in Clause 41C of Section 5, which allows a $1,000 tax reduction for seniors age 70 and older who are below qualifying income and asset levels.
Beyond that qualification, the committee approved
Under terms of the enabling state law, the person would receive credit for minimum wage, or $8 per hour, and would work 125 hours for the maximum annual tax reduction of $1,000 per person or household, councilors said. The mayor's office would decide whether the city could fund the full number of abatements in a given year and which department would oversee the program and the jobs, which are expected to be mostly clerical in nature.
Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop suggested capping the program at 100 participants per year, noting that it could cost the city $100,000 in lost tax revenue. The 41C program would cost the city more than $130,000 a year, he said. It is possible some seniors would qualify for both programs, which would allow them to work off a maximum of $2,000 off a tax bill.
King said the total of abatements for seniors and disabled veterans in Pittsfield was $311,000 during the last fiscal year, but that $102,000 of that sum was reimbursed to the city through the state.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, as well as Clairmont, said they hope to gain input from City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan on wording for the draft proposal, concerning the potential liability of the city if workers are injured and similar issues.
Clairmont said he asked to meet with the solicitor on the wording but was told she was busy with other legal issues, so he drafted a proposal based on those in other communities. Degnan could not attend Monday's meeting because she was sick, Mazzeo said.