WESTMINSTER — Although Mary Owens lives on a fixed income and has seen her property taxes rise in recent years, she's not in favor of the mayor's tax-deferral program for the elderly.
"No, I really don't want it," said Owens, 74, shaking her head. "I'm in favor of leaving things the way they are. My taxes have gone up, but not that much."
The tax-deferral program, proposed by Mayor W. Benjamin Brown andendorsed by the Maryland Municipal League, would let seniors defer increases in city taxes until they sold their homes.
Legislation ispending before the Ways and Means Committee of the General Assembly.A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Under the mayor's plan, citiessuch as Westminster could allow elderly residents to defer increasesin their municipal taxes until they either sell their homes or die. At the time of any transaction, the city would collect the money, compounded with interest.
MML officials, reviewing the proposed legislation, described the measure as "an equitable means of dealing" withtax issues for the elderly. MML officials liked the discretionary nature of the plan, allowing cities to choose whether to participate.
The measure is modeled after a state law, approved by the General Assembly in 1988, allowing counties to offer tax-deferral programs forseniors. Municipalities currently have no authority to do so. Only afew counties, such as Montgomery, have taken advantage of the plan.
Elizabeth Boehner, chief of the division of elder affairs in Montgomery County, said the county began offering the program two years ago, allowing senior citizens to freeze tax rates at 1989 levels. About78,000 of the county's 735,000 residents are over age 65, she said.
However, nobody has applied to participate in the program, said Bill Matthews, financial programs manager for Montgomery County. He said that's largely because the tax rate in the county cannot rise more than the rate of inflation, and because people don't want liens on their property.
Brown said he has proposed the measure to help the city's elderly, who often live on fixed incomes. If enacted, the legislation would provide relief for about 800 of the city's 1,800 residents over age 65. The others either live in senior citizen complexes orrent.
Residents would have to apply to participate in the program.
Sterling and Helen Groft, who live in a bungalow on East Green Street, endorsed the program.
"I would like to see our taxes not goup," said Helen Groft. "I believe it is something we would take advantage of."
Her husband agreed: "It sounds all right to me."
Like other senior citizens, Sterling, 85, and Helen, 81, live on fixed incomes and see only marginal increases in Social Security. They promptly pay their city taxes every summer.
"We get Social Security, but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans," Helen said.
Carroll County has not enacted such programs for senior citizens, and Beulah Belt,81, wasn't so sure she wanted to see one offered.
"It might be a problem," the Finksburg resident said. "It might help us out, but what about when your house is passed on to your children? They'll have to pay."
Beatrice Marquette, who lives near Westminster, liked the idea.
"I think anybody would think it's a good thing," she said. "I think everybody thinks their taxes are too high."