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Tax break for seniors

November 13th, 2013

New income eligibility limits for qualified seniors over the age of 65 for the partial real property tax exemption were set by the Highland Board of Education during their meeting on Nov. 3. The new sliding scale raises limits by $3,750. Seniors who qualify with an income of $25,250 will receive a 50 percent reduction of their school taxes. The highest allowed income of $33,650 will receive a 5 percent reduction.

The new sliding scale represents a compromise on the part of the board as some members wanted to increase the scale to the maximum allowable by law, which would be $29,000 for the lowest level and $37,399.99 for the highest level, while others wanted to be more conservative and increase the levels by just $2,000 in order to see how the new scale impacted other taxpayers in the district.

Board Vice President Sue Gilmore was one member who wanted to be more conservative in increases, especially since the latest district food service report shows that 36 percent of Highland students are currently utilizing the free and reduced lunch fees. “I understand the struggle that all taxpayers are having in our district,” she said. “Highland Schools do not have generous state aid and a large business base as some other districts do. This means our tax rate per thousand of our assessed values are very high. If we had comparable state aid as others, and if we had a strong business base, I would not hesitate to share the wealth by giving seniors the additional break they deserve. However, when we make a decision to further increase the Enhanced Star-Exemption, we are effectively raising our already high taxes on our district small business, landlords, and young families. In my opinion, we are doing a disservice to all the hard work our town leaders struggle with on a day-to-day basis to attract business and young families to our community.” Gilmore went on to correct an earlier published error of the figures she supported, and said that she was in favor of increasing the bottom level from $21,500 to $23,500 and the top level from $29,900 to $31,900. She gave the only dissenting vote when a roll call vote was taken by the board clerk.

In other business, the board set Nov. 13 and 20 (both Wednesdays) as special meetings for the community to hear from the board on the proposed $25 million capital project. The meetings were scheduled for 7 p.m. at the high school. The project will be voted on by the public on Dec. 10.

An article about the project posted on the school website states that the capital project is designed to “improve security and address deficient and antiquated infrastructure, including poor quality of athletic facilities.” Several pictures posted with the article show areas, including parking lots and windows, where repairs, improvements, and replacements are obviously needed. The article states that the majority of the work included in the project is eligible for state aid at an anticipated rate of 66.2 percent.

This aid reduces the cost of the project to $12 million, exclusive of interest, which is also eligible for state aid. Board president Al Barone said, “The board’s goal has been to leverage all available opportunities to make this as cost-neutral to the community as possible, while ensuring we have planned for the greatest value over the long term.” However, current estimates show that there will be an increase of approximately 40 cents a year per thousand dollars of assessed value for a homeowner with Basic STAR exemption, 17 cents for taxpayers who receive the Enhanced STAR exemption, and 60 cents for taxpayers with no exemption. This means an increased cost per year for a home assessed at $100,000 would range from $17.09 to $60. For a home assessed at $500,000, the increased cost would range from $85.45 to $300. The board is still investigating financial strategies to further minimize the local impact. Gilmore said, “It has been my understanding that the project would have a neutral impact. That was the goal, but apparently there will be some increase in taxes.”

By TERI JONES

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