PITTSFIELD -- One long-debated program to cut property tax bills for lower-income seniors has won approval from the City Council, and a second proposal was referred to the council's Finance Committee for a review of its financial impact.
Under the program adopted, seniors would work 125 hours to earn the maximum $1,000 in a tax bill reduction. The mayor would decide how the program would be run and who would oversee workers and identify and assign jobs.
To participate, the council on Tuesday voted to accept Chapter 59, Section 5K of state law. The specific work program in Pittsfield, which has some leeway in the format, will have a cap of 25 jobs during the next fiscal year for residents 60 and older. The maximum job figure was lowered Tuesday from 100 after much debate about the impact on city finances and other considerations.
Also at the meeting, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo contended the program does not offer tax relief for enough seniors, is too complex to administer and could have a negative effect on the city's RSVP volunteer program. She proposed that the city expand an existing relief program that also provides a $1,000 tax reduction for lower-income seniors.
The city has the program detailed under Clause 41C of Section 5 of state law in place for seniors 70 and older. Eligibility is based on income and other factors and does not require that seniors work. Mazzeo proposed reducing the qualifying age to 65 to assist more seniors with their tax bills.
That change was referred to the council's Finance Committee for a review of its potential impact. The city last year had 131 seniors 70 and older take part, meaning a reduction of $131,000 in tax revenue.
At Mazzeo's request, Assessor Chairwoman Paula King gave a rough estimate of how many seniors might apply for the 41C program if the age level were lowered to 65. King said a rough estimate would be 200 in total, for a cost in reduced revenue of $200,000.
Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont -- all of whom proposed the senior work program -- said they believe more review of the financial impact was needed. Yon said she is concerned about the future impact of the 41C program when more baby boom retirees begin to apply for the $1,000.
Mazzeo, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and others continued to raise doubts about the work program, which also was debated at an Ordinance and Rules Committee meeting and an earlier council meeting before being tabled.
But Krol and Clairmont said it was time for a vote. They said establishing the program would still leave its scope up to the mayor to decide.
"We can put it in our tool box," Clairmont said. "We can utilize it or not utilize it" depending on the need or economic conditions.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, asked if he could implement the program, said he would but added, "it's difficult to say" how many jobs could be found and how it would be overseen by staff members. He indicated he thought the 41C program would be a simpler alternative for providing tax relief.
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