A new property tax stabilization program aimed at helping keep senior citizens in their homes went into effect on August 8.
According to rules for the program, which provides property tax stabilization for permanent Maine residents aged 65 or older who have owned a homestead in Maine for at least 10 years, the 10-year eligibility period does not have to be consecutive. Additionally, if a property is owned by more than one individual, only one of the owners needs to qualify for the program.
There are also no income or asset limits to qualify for the program and no payback amount if a property is removed from the program.
According to the rules, released by Maine Revenue Services (MRS), municipalities are responsible for accepting applications to the program, due by December 1 annually, verifying an applicant’s eligibility and providing notice about whether the applicant has been approved or denied. Additionally, municipalities are responsible for tracking properties in the program, the amount of stabilized property taxes, and taxes that would have been otherwise assessed.
Municipalities must also retain applications for reference and “for state valuation audit purposes,” and must annually apply to MRS for reimbursement by November 1.
The state’s responsibilities include providing applications, instructions and guidance for municipal officials. Additionally, MRS will annually review reimbursement claims and reimburse “qualifying municipalities by January 15 for 100 percent of the difference between the amount billed the participating individual and the tax that would otherwise be due.”
The Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS), which houses MRS, did not return a request for comment related to whether it will provide any support to municipalities if it determines an individual is ineligible to participate in the program after a municipality has approved a claim.
DAFS also did not return a request for comment related to whether it is concerned there are loopholes in the program and any steps it might take to address them.
Kate Dufour, a representative of the Maine Municipal Association, which has opposed the program since it was draft legislation, said her group thinks there are “many unintended adverse consequences” associated with the program’s enactment.
“However, it will take time and trial and error to identify all of the possible loopholes,” Dufour added.