Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, speaks on the floor of the Maine Senate on April 18, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of Senate Republican Office/Mike Fern

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Seniors across Maine can apply to freeze their property taxes when a new state law goes into effect on Aug. 8.

Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, originated the bill on behalf of an Aroostook County resident, who was concerned that seniors on fixed incomes couldn’t afford to stay in their homes due to rising property taxes.

LD 290, An Act to Stabilize Property Taxes for Individuals 65 Years of Age or Older Who Own a Homestead for at Least 10 Years, passed the Legislature on May 8. Eligible seniors who apply each year will not pay higher property taxes as long as they live in their homes.

Should their property valuations increase, the state will pay their municipality the difference between their current tax and the new higher amount using $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan funding the state dedicated to the program.

The idea for the bill came from a conversation Stewart had with a County resident who told him property tax relief would be helpful.

“This is proving to be a pretty popular program,” Stewart said Thursday. “That was just a good example of what happens when you reach out to your elected officials and want to try to solve a problem. Thankfully, my colleagues were committed to solving it with me.”

Social Security has failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, making seniors vulnerable to rising taxes. Sometimes they are forced to make hard financial decisions or risk losing their homes entirely, which is not an acceptable outcome, Stewart said.

Bridgewater resident Dottie Wheeler, who identified herself as a senior, wrote to thank Stewart for seeing the bill to its final passage. Many times seniors are forgotten, and when something positive affects the older population, it’s worth celebrating, she said Thursday.

“Most seniors are living on a fixed income, and with gas prices and grocery prices, all our prices going up, it will only be a matter of time before it affects our property taxes,” Wheeler said. “I think this is going to be very helpful for seniors, not only in The County, but in the entire state of Maine.”

Presque Isle Tax Assessor Lewis Cousins explained the new law on Wednesday to the Presque Isle City Council.

“It’s no loss to the municipality or to the other taxpayers with the way this is designed,” Cousins said. “There’s nobody harmed here.”

Seniors approved for the program will have their homestead’s current tax rate frozen until they discontinue use of that home, he said. If their property’s valuation exceeds what they currently pay, the state will reimburse the city.

The new property tax freeze is separate from the state’s homestead exemption.

Application forms should be available by Sept. 1 and will be due by Dec. 1 for the following year.

Seniors must apply through their municipalities for the property tax stabilization program and file a new application each year.

Along with the age requirement, the law specifies applicants must be permanent Maine residents who have owned their home for at least 10 years and meet the requirements for the homestead exemption.

If a municipality determines an applicant is eligible, it will stabilize the property tax on that homestead for the tax year for which they requested the program.

Municipalities in turn will apply to the state for a reimbursement for taxes based on any increased valuation on that property.

The stabilization is also transferable. An eligible homeowner who sells a home and buys another in Maine can pay their stabilized property tax amount, and their new municipality will receive the same state compensation.

“No more will seniors have to worry about whether they might someday be taxed out of their homes thanks to some County ingenuity and my caucus’s support behind this important initiative,” Stewart said.