Barrington examining tax breaks for seniors

Barrington Town Hall, Barrington, Rhode Island

Barrington Town Hall, Barrington, Rhode Island

In 2009 Carolyn Ryan faced the possibility of losing the Barrington home where she raised her family.

Ms. Ryan and her husband moved to town in 1953 but a potential $20,000 increase in value 56 years later and a subsequent bump in taxes created a potentially unaffordable situation for the Sowams Road resident.

“My taxes are going up and I can’t afford it,” she said in an interview three years ago. “You get to this point in life and you can’t do what you want to do. After my husband died 10 years ago. I learned to cut down. I am not able to put away much and I have started to take out from the savings and there’s not a lot to take out.”

Ms. Ryan joined up with hundreds of other Barrington residents to fight her appraisal in court. Eventually, her appraisal was adjusted and today, Ms. Ryan is in her 60th year on Sowams Road.

Now, town officials are looking at a program that could help senior citizens like Ms. Ryan weather the effects of future tax rate hikes or valuation jumps.

On Monday, March 18, the town council and town officials will meet for a special workshop on senior tax issues, including a potential senior tax deferment program.

“The town recognizes that giving these seniors an opportunity to defer the taxes at a reasonable interest rate serves both the town and the seniors as well,” said Gary Morse, who broached the idea with the town’s senior services advisory board several years ago.

Barrington finance director Dean Huff presented the town council with a look at several possibilities for the program last week. In its simplest form, the proposal is aimed at helping seniors on a fixed income avoid tax increases that could force them out of Barrington. It would freeze taxes at one level, deferring all upcoming increases to the future with interest.

“That would be ideal. It really would,” Ms. Ryan said last week. She also said deferment of the taxes doesn’t concern her at all.

“That would be fine with me,” she said. “I’d sign all of the papers.”

Daunting details

The particulars of the proposal, however, are a bit more complicated.

For starters, a decision has to be made on eligibility requirements. The senior services advisory board, which asked for a study on the proposal, believes the program should be open to anyone 65 and older while town administrators would like to see a minimum 10 years of residency.

Another consideration is income. Mr. Huff’s presentation spelled out a number of possible income qualifications including 80 percent of Barrington’s median household income, 80 percent of the state’s median household income or a threshold utilizing federal poverty standards.

Also, the town needs to establish a duration for the deferment and an interest rate for the incremental tax increase.

In Bristol, the elderly tax deferment program is open to anyone 65 and older, with at least 20 years of residency and a gross household income under $50,000. The deferred taxes accrue at an annual 6 percent interest rate and the lien is due when the applicant dies or when the property changes hands.

Barrington’s proposal also doesn’t take into account a senior exemption nor a circuit breaker program that offers tax credits to seniors based on income level.

The possibility of altering the circuit breaker credits or income levels is slated to be part of the discussion this week along with looking at some of the particulars around the senior tax deferment proposal.

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