PORTLAND, Maine — Mayor Ethan Strimling set out a plan Wednesday to provide property tax and rent relief to nearly 900 city seniors.
The Portland Senior Tax Equity Program would give tax rebates to residents who are 62 or older and qualify for a similar state-wide program, according to a policy proposal released by the mayor’s office.
Under the mayor’s plan the city would match dollar-for-dollar state money provided to Portland seniors through the State of Maine Property Tax Fairness Program, in an effort to ease the burden of rents and property taxes that have risen sharply in recent years, Strimling wrote in a memo on the proposed policy.
The state program is available to Mainers who have total incomes of between $33,333 and $53,000, depending on household size, and who pay more than six percent of that income in property taxes or more than 40 percent of it in rent.
Portland renters and homeowners between 62 and 65 could receive up to $600 a year in rebates from the city, and those older than 65 could receive up to $900 annually. These sums are the maximum payments offered by the state program. In 2015, the average rebate to a Portland senior was $304, according to state data provided by the mayor’s office.
Strimling hopes the city can begin matching state rebates by the spring of 2019 and suggested that some version of the proposal is likely to be supported by the other members of the city council.
“I’ve heard from a lot of councilors that trying to provide property tax relief is a priority,” the mayor told reporters at city hall. “A lot of these seniors helped build this city and we need to make sure we can show our appreciation.”
In 2015, the state program sent 899 Portlanders aged 62 or older more than $270,000 in rebates. The mayor’s proposal does not identify a revenue source that could be used to match this sum — a task that he said could be taken up the city manager and the City Council’s finance committee.
To receive local rebates Portlanders would need to allow the city to verify that they qualify for the state program.
Strimling called for tax relief in his January State of the City address, and developing such a program is among the city council’s goals for this year.
Councilor David Brenerman said that the city will need to identify a source of funding to pay for the program and administrative, but said it is worth studying and may spur more people to seek state tax relief.
“There are a number of people who qualify for the current state property tax relief, but don’t apply,” said Brenerman. “Perhaps a city program would encourage folks to seek state property tax relief also in order to qualify for the city program.”
Strimling’s proposal would need to be approved by the full council, which is expected to refer it to the finance committee for study on Monday.