Finance board votes to increase tax relief

The Board of Finance approved, during its March 20 meeting, a $50,000 increase in elderly and disabled tax relief to be included as an adjustment in the fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget it will recommend to the town in May.

“Wilton’s tax relief program is available to any elderly and disabled taxpayer that qualifies and applies for tax relief,” Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser told The Bulletin.

Tax relief, he said, is not a cash payment from the town but rather “a reduction/offset of levied tax” on tax relief recipients’ homes.

For the last five years, the town has budgeted up to $1,100,000 for its tax relief program but has given out less than that amount in tax relief, said Rutishauser.

The program hasn’t changed since at least FY14, he said, and “there’s some desire to increase it because the usage has been creeping up and it might hit the ceiling in the coming year.”

“Recently,” said Rutishauser, “the amount of tax relief granted has been rising and is almost at the $1,100,000 level, so we increased the level on tax relief that we expect people to apply for by another $50,000.”

Although the final deferral and credit numbers for the upcoming year are not yet known, said Chief Financial Officer Anne Kelly-Lenz, the town is already “close” to hitting the $1,100,000 mark, and “a slight tax increase … could shift a lot.”

If the town didn’t raise the amount above the current $1,100,000 level and the tax relief program granted more than that this coming year, Rutishauser said, it would result in a “shortfall in actual tax collections relative to budget since the tax relief is an agreement to credit or deduct a certain amount of property taxes required to be paid.”

Rutishauser said the tax relief program serves “a segment of the population which doesn’t get a lot of benefit” and a $50,000 increase “will be important for all the people who will need the support in the coming years.”

“These are people who do need assistance — older people who need help with their property tax to stay in Wilton — so it’s a worthy, worthy cause.”

Until Wilton voters actually approve the new tax relief amount of $1,150,000 during the Annual Town Meeting on May 1, Rutishauser said, the amount remains $1,100,000.

“Only the voters can actually approve the higher amount by voting to increase it,” he told The Bulletin. “The Board of Finance doesn’t have those approval rights.”