Tuesday, November 13, 2012
RTM Postpones Senior Housing Resolution
By James Lomuscio
A proposed Representative Town Meeting (RTM) resolution supporting the planned Baron’s South senior housing facility and its developer was withdrawn tonight to allow for public notice and input.
Westport Tax Assessor Paul Friia answers a question from RTM Deputy Moderator Eileen Flug tonight as the legislative body approved amendments to the town’s senior tax relief program. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Jonathan Cunitz, RTM member representing District 4, withdrew his sense-of-the-meeting resolution following comments from First Selectman Gordon Joseloff who had suggested it be postponed until the RTM’s December meeting.
“Give people notice,” said Joseloff, who along with Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, has made the senior housing facility a key initiative. “I hope the momentum will continue, but the last thing we need is to have people say that this was rushed through.”
After Monday night’s special public RTM hearing on the facility and the Baron South Committee’s selection of Jonathan Rose Companies as its developer, Joseloff said he was encouraged about the possibility of a resolution that would move the process forward.
A month ago the committee had faced a setback from the Board of Finance, suggesting they submit another RFP (request for proposal) and go out to bid again.
But tonight, with few people in attendance and only 26 members of the RTM present, Joseloff urged postponement of the resolution.
“I think your decision to put this off until the December meeting is wise,” said Cunitz, who quickly withdrew his motion.
In another matter, the RTM voted 23 to 2 with 1 abstention adopting an amendment recommended by Tax Assessor Paul Friia providing tax relief for those 65 years and older and permanently or totally disabled persons.
The revised rules eliminate the ability of applicants to use certain losses to offset income to make them eligible for tax relief.
The program enables seniors who earn less than $25,000 to have their taxes reduced $3,500. Those who earn less than $35,000 would get a $3,000 abatement. Under $45,000, the amount drops to $2,000, and less than $55,000 the abatement is $1,000.
Tax deferrals are open to seniors who earn less than $75,000 per year, allowing them to defer all of their taxes. Those earning up to $100,000 per year are able to have any tax increase deferred.
Friia has said that the town could save up to $75,000 by limiting household tax abatements.
Tax abatements are reductions in the amount of taxes seniors have to pay. Tax deferrals are property taxes that are deferred with 3 percent annual interest until the senior sells his or her house or the estate is settled, Friia said.
Another change that the RTM made to the proposed amendment was to remove the Board of Finance’s suggested provision that those who own homes worth $2 million or more not be eligible for the abatement.
RTM member Catherine Calise motioned to remove the $2 million restriction, a motion later approved by a 21 to 5 vote.
Most agreed that seniors who live in such homes did not buy them at that price and should not be penalized, especially if they are cash strapped and cannot qualify for a home equity loan to pay their taxes.
Others claimed the $2 million cap was an arbitrary number.
“Let’s give everybody who qualifies the opportunity,” said RTM member Lois Schine.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 4,226 Westport residents 65 or over in 2010, or 16 percent of the town’s 26,391 population.
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Note: WestportNow Publisher Gordon F. Joseloff is also First Selectman of Westport