Two programs designed to help Gardiner residents on fixed or limited incomes have been approved by the Gardiner City Council.

The Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief Program proposes to give relief to current residents 65 and older who have lived in Gardiner for at least 10 years. Any Gardiner property owner or renter who has received the Property Tax Fairness Credit from the state will receive an equal amount from the city, subject to City Council funding. In 2016, Maine Revenue Services data show 284 residents received the credit in 2015, with a median benefit of $246. At that rate, the city could provide relief to 203 residents at the current proposed level of funding.

The Sewer Discount Program, which has benefited only 13 people, has been changed. Rather than using federal income requirements, the city has determined that anyone whose household income does not exceed 70 percent of the median household income based on the most recent U.S. Census data qualifies for the program.

Subject to funding by the City Council, veterans or disabled people will receive a $25 reduction in domestic sewer charges. Qualifying residents ages 65 to 75 will receive a $25 reduction and those 76 and older will receive a $45 discount. Anyone who now receives the discount will be grandfathered into the program, provided the candidate satisfies all other program requirements.

To make the program work, Mayor Thom Harnett said, the upcoming budget contains funding to help pay for the programs — $50,000 for the Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief program and $20,000 for The Sewer Discount Program for Seniors, Veterans and the Disabled.

“This is an effort on the part of the city and its residents to assist those people on fixed incomes or incomes that don’t change very much to help them address the burden on property taxpayers,” Harnett said, particularly since the state of Maine has failed to meet its own commitment for revenue sharing with its cities and towns.

“Neither of these programs would be necessary if revenue sharing were at 5 percent as set forth in statute,” Harnett said.

With state revenue sharing at 2 percent, he said, cities and towns are strapped when they are trying to provide services residents need and want without taxing them out of their homes.

“It has been a difficult balance to strike,” he said.

He credited former At-large City Councilor Maureen Blanchard for taking the lead on the programs.

Blanchard said residents had told her they were thinking of leaving Gardiner because of the city’s property tax.

“The senior citizens who talked to me are living on a fixed income,” she said. “Every time the property tax goes up, there’s less money for pills, for bills and for food.”

They also have faced an extended period of time when interest on savings accounts has languished at or near 0 percent, even as changes to Medicare, the primary source of health insurance for senior citizens, cost them more money out of pocket, she said.

“Some people are rich in house and poor in cash,” she said, adding that they may want to pass their houses on to their children, but they can’t do that if they can’t pay their property tax.

Blanchard in turn credited Scott Morelli, Gardiner’s former city manager, for his work on developing information on how many people could be helped based on the amount of funding given to the programs.

“He took our energy and concern and ran with it,” Blanchard said.

Homeowners in Gardiner also can receive a break on property taxes by filing for a homestead exemption on their primary residence.

“We have folks who have not done an application for a homestead exemption,” Interim City Manager Anne Davis said. While April 1 was the deadline for filing for this year, Davis said homeowners should keep it in mind for future years.

“We have tried hard with outreach,” she said, offering both brochures and outreach at the Gardiner Public Library.

With these new programs, she said, information will be included with the city’s next mass mailing to residents.

“Or they can call City Hall and we’ll get them started,” she said. “We encourage people to check with City Hall if they are having issues paying taxes, before we have to contact them.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

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Twitter: @JLowellKJ