Mass Municipal Association: Ashland tax relief fund to help seniors, disabled via donations

Oct 13, 2017

Communities across the state are finding creative ways of supporting older adults and all residents to remain healthy and independent. The following article is republished with permission from the October 2017 issue of The Beacon, a publication of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association that provides advocacy, training, publications, research and other services to Massachusetts cities and towns.

Ashland has created a tax relief fund and is seeking donations from residents to provide assistance to elderly and disabled residents on fixed incomes who face rising property tax bills.
 The town had already adopted exemptions for seniors, blind residents and veterans that are allowed under state law, but Town Manager Michael Herbert said officials wanted to do more.
Officials discovered Chapter 60, Section 3D, of the Massachusetts General Laws, which allows for the creation of an elderly and disabled tax relief fund managed by a committee that includes the chair of the board of assessors, the city or town treasurer, and three residents appointed by the mayor or board of selectmen. The Ashland Board of Selectmen voted to adopt the section on Aug. 2.
Unlike the existing exemptions for seniors, blind residents and veterans, the new fund will take into account a resident’s assets beyond income and median home value. Herbert said the goal is to expand what the town can offer while ensuring that the fund is helping those most in need.
“If you have a limited income, but you’re living in a home that’s worth $750,000, we have programs where you can defer your taxes and ways you can utilize the assets you have in order to have the people stay in their home,” he said. “This fund is a grant program and strictly designed to offer straight financial assistance to people who could use it most.”
To qualify for assistance from the fund, a resident must meet the following criteria:
• Own and occupy a home in Ashland as their primary residence and have lived in or owned the property for at least five years
• Be 60 years or older, or receive disability benefits from a program such as Social Security, Veterans Administration or workers’ compensation, among others
• Have gross household income below the fiscal 2017 CDBG service eligibility limits, ranging from $36,200 for a one-person household to $51,700 for a four-person household
• Have the home assessed at or below the median assessed value for the prior tax year for the property type
• Have household assets, including personal property, other real estate and financial accounts, worth less than $40,000
Preference will be given to property owners who do not qualify to defer their taxes or receive another exemption, and the committee will have the ability to consider extraordinary circumstances in awarding relief.
The amount of relief will be dependent on how much the town can fundraise and how many applications come in, Herbert said. The initial fundraising goal is $15,000 to $20,000.
While Ashland’s average single family tax bill sits in the middle among surrounding MetroWest communities, Herbert said Ashland faces the same problem as other cities and towns: the rising cost of services is leading to higher property taxes.
“If you’re looking at a $6,000 tax bill and you’re someone who is only receiving $24,000 in Social Security, you have a quarter of your income going to property tax,”  he said. “Looking at it that simply and using straight math, you can see why there’s a need for this program and other tax relief programs.”