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November 12, 2013

Tax reforms expected before Pelham voters

PELHAM — Selectmen are moving ahead with a plan to restructure elderly tax exemptions.

They would put the question to voters at Town Meeting in March.

The plan, recommended by assessing assistant Susan Snide, calls for elimination of the town’s 100 percent exemption for seniors over age 75 who meet financial qualifications.

Instead, the town would have a three-tiered exemption system that would provide a maximum tax break of $100,000 in assessed property value.

Seniors also could get a hardship tax break through selectmen if they demonstrated financial need.

The proposal recently emerged in response to concerns that increasing demand for the elderly exemption and an aging population were causing two problems.

One was that the growth in exemptions was burdening younger, non-exempt taxpayers with the cost of financing town services.

The other was that town officials had encountered seniors wanting to move into town to take advantage of the 100 percent exemption.

Last year, the town awarded exemptions totaling more than $230,000.

Snide, meeting with selectmen, projected the town could see that figure grown to more than $1 million in future years.

The proposed tiers would give a $33,000 break from assessed value to those ages 65 to 74, $85,000 for ages 75 to 79 and $100,000 to those 80 and older.

The two higher tiers for older taxpayers are both more generous than the state average.

Snide told selectmen the average exemption statewide is $60,000 for those ages 75 to 79, and about $82,000 for those 80 and older.

The average for those ages 65 to 74 is $43,000, she said.

Snide described Pelham as the state’s most generous town because of the current 100 percent tax break for qualifying seniors.

Selectmen’s Chairman Ed Gleason said he was concerned about the potential $1 million revenue loss and the added burden to other taxpayers.

“This would minimize our exposure,” Gleason said of the three-tiered system.

Selectmen stressed they don’t want to deny someone a tax break they ought to receive.

“We are trying to figure out how to make sure people who deserve it get the exemption,” Selectman William McDevitt said.

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