A request by the Commission on Aging to raise the Base Tax Relief Rates and Veterans Assessment Relief was sent on Monday, Nov. 19, by the Board of Selectmen to the Board of Finance for consideration and review.

The tax relief program allows seniors who are 65 or older or those who are disabled, based on government standards, to defer their taxes until their homes are sold or until death, according to Joe Pankowski, chairman for the Commission on Aging.

Currently the tax relief income eligibility requirement is $41,300 for single residents and $48,500 for married residents, and 14 residents take advantage of these tax deferments. The commission on aging is proposing to raise these relief rates to $45,000 for single residents and $55,000 for couples as well as requiring the Board of Selectmen to review these numbers every one to three years.

"The town of Darien should increase these numbers so we can allow more seniors and disabled people to take advantage of these programs," Pankowski said, adding that the numbers could be raised with little or no cost to the taxpayers.

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"It's not really a cost because ultimately the town will get this money back when the house is sold or the person passes away," Pankowski explained.

In comparison to other towns in Fairfield County, Darien's base tax relief rate is low. Ridgefield offers $55,000 to either single or married residents, New Canaan and Fairfield offer $60,000 for single and married residents and Wilton offers $75,000 for both single and married residents.

While it was researching the base tax relief, Pankowski said, the commission also looked at the veteran's assessment relief and saw that it, too, was lower than what many other local towns offer.

The veterans assessment relief, which is a reimbursement from the state with no income requirements, in Darien is $1,500. In Norwalk and Stamford it's $3,000 and in Fairfield and New Canaan it's $12,000. The Commission on Aging is proposing to raise the veteran's assessment relief to $8,000.

"We believe this is in the town's best interest, we believe this in the seniors' best interest and in the veterans' best interest," Pankowski said.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson wanted to know whether or not the town had any veterans taking advantage of the assessment relief program.

Assessor Tony Homicki said 600 veterans participate are in the program.

Selectman David Bayne was curious about the impact on the town if the rates were increased by the suggested amounts.

Pankowski said it was almost impossible to know how many more people would take advantage of it.

"Right now, we have 170 seniors currently eligible, but we only have 14 signed up," Pankowski said. "It's very difficult in some cases for them to sign up because the town has put a lien on the property."

Selectman John Lundeen asked if the Commission on Aging has asked why those 170 seniors don't want to take advantage of it.

"With increasing medical expenses, increasing heating oil, there are seniors who don't want to take advantage of the program, who want to live on their own and don't want to be bothered on some level," Pankowski said. "I really do believe there are seniors in this town who, for a variety of reasons, aren't taking advantage of it."

Stevenson said she thought the changes seemed appropriate.

Pankowski also urged the Board of Selectmen to review the dollar amounts every one to three years to see "is there a bubble of people that we're just missing because they just don't qualify?"

Over the past few years, Homicki said, the number of applications has increased from six to eight to 15, and that both the Commission on Aging and the assessor's office send out mailings to people seniors making them aware of the program.

"It seems at this level of participation it's something we should do," Bayne said.

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