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Initial tax-rebate program reaches 132 seniors

The inaugural year of Cape Elizabeth's Property Tax Assistance program reached the people it was intended to reach, according to the town's assessor.

In the first of what will be an annual report, Town Assessor Clinton Swett said that 132 applications were approved for the rebate program adopted by the Town Council in January. Checks totaling $64,407 were mailed to seniors who qualified, leaving $10,593 from the $75,000 that was budgeted. "Hopefully in next year's budget we can see a minor increase in that pot because, neighbors are talking to neighbors, and it's going to become more popular," Swett told town councilors at their meeting March 11, 2019.

The program is modeled after similar ones in neighboring communities. Seniors 65 and older with an annual household income of no more than $60,000, who have lived in their homes for at least 10 years, are eligible for a rebate of up to $500.

Most applicants qualified for the full $500, Swett said. "I met all 132 of these applicants, they came in to my office and, what a wonderful group of people, they were so appreciative of the program," he said.

A few came in after the application deadline to ask about the rebate because they learned their neighbor had received one. "So I kind of extended the deadline a little and got them enrolled in the program as well," Swett said. Only two applicants were denied for not meeting the criteria.

Assets were not a factor in determining eligibility, and, answering a question from a councilor, Swett said he did not believe assets should be monitored. The average value of rebate recipients' homes was $265,000, he said, "so it really is hitting the target."

To best serve the senior population, checks rather than tax credits were issued for the rebate, and a paper application was used rather than one online. Some applications were downloaded and printed from the town website, but most were picked up in-person at the assessor's office.

Meeting with applicants is necessary to gather confidential income information and to confirm eligibility. "It had some moving parts but I think all the parts worked really well," Swett said of the process, although future versions of the application itself may be simplified.

He said everyone who applied will get an application for next year's rebate in the mail next September, before the council begins working on the town budget for 2021. Applications should be processed in December, with checks on qualified recipients hands by next February.

Tax relief for seniors was a Town Council goal for 2018.