By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — Local officials are pushing to raise the limit of senior property tax exemptions to account for a larger-than-usual Social Security increase this year.
Town Assessor Gordon Bennett asked the town board at its Feb. 21 meeting for permission to champion a state bill that would raise the income limit in accordance with a 5.9% increase seniors and disabled individuals received in their Social Security payments.
The state determines how high a municipality can raise the limit. Some seniors are already being priced out of the property tax exemption — which reduces their county, town and school taxes by a percentage based on their household income — even before the Social Security increases are accounted for, Bennett said.
“We have already gone to the highest level that we can go,” Bennett said. “Also, knowing that some seniors are already having reduced tax savings because of cost-of-living increases from Social Security and other retirement sources, the increases for 2022 were larger than any in recent years and will certainly further reduce savings when those increases are used to calculate the 2022 income for next year’s exemptions.”
There is a bill in the state Legislature that would raise the limit, but the effort appears to have stalled, Bennett said.
He asked the town board to adopt a resolution clearing the way for him to champion the bill with state officials.
“Two years ago, we raised the limit to the maximum that we can raise it, so every time there is a Social Security increase and somebody gets a little more money, they get pushed down the exemption scale and they lose a little bit of the exemption,” Bennett explained. “Last year the Social Security increase was 1.3%. This year it was 5.9%.”
The exemption an individual receives is based on their household income and tops out when a household reaches an annual income of $34,000.
The goal is to keep seniors and disabled individuals at the same property tax exemption as they were in the past, not to increase it, Bennett added.
“We don’t want them to get bumped out, and we are not trying to get them any more,” he said.
Town Supervisor Paul Macko said the issue is out of the hands of town officials unless the state passes legislation changing the exemption levels.
“This board can’t raise it unless the state Legislature takes the appropriate action that allows us to,” Macko said. “I am hoping this gets done this [legislative] session.”
Bennett said the bill is still in committee and added he doesn’t understand why state officials would not call for a vote.
“What better bill to advocate for than to try to keep senior citizens in their houses? I don’t know if there is one,” Bennett said.
If the income levels are raised, it could impact other homeowners’ taxes statewide to a degree, he said.
“The only downside would be that every dollar that a senior citizen doesn’t pay gets picked up by the rest of the taxpayers,” he said. “But I don’t see that as a downside to keeping our seniors at the same level that they are at.”
Social Security payments were increased this year in response to rising inflation rates nationwide.
“The way the inflation rate is running at 7.5% or 8%, even with a 5.9% increase, they (seniors) are still behind,” Macko said, adding that Medicare costs are also on the rise.
Town Councilman Joel Rauf made the motion to pass the resolution clearing the way for Bennett to advocate for the state legislation raising the income levels and was seconded by Town Councilman John Bensen.
“I am in favor of supporting a resolution and I would move that the board accept his [Bennett’s] suggestion and we try to support our seniors any way we can,” Rauf said.
The resolution was adopted unanimously.