2018-02-23 / Community

Tax season looks different to Cape this year

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – Residents in Cape Elizabeth were set to receive the second-half of their tax bills last week, but the town’s tax office is expecting a lighter workload this go-around to process the payments, which are due April 2.

In early January, Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the tax office was inundated in December with payments from taxpayers who were trying to get ahead of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act. The tax reform law, which was signed into effect by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000 after Jan. 1. Making payments early, Sturgis said, allowed taxpayers to deduct the taxes due in April 2018 on their 2017 tax return.

“With the recent tax income laws and with the changes with deduction that took place in terms of local and state deductions, there was an end-of-theyear rush by may residents to pay the second-half tax payments due in April and have these items included on the 2017 itemized deductions on their federal income taxes,” Sturgis said.

Sturgis said the office received more than $2.85 million in December, much more than was received in December 2016.

“To put it into perspective to understand how heavily this hit the town, last December the town received just under $130,000 in real estate property tax receivables in the month of December,” Sturgis said.

The town couldn’t have handled such a request, he said, without the hard work of Debra Lane, who works as assistant town manager and town clerk and her staff.

While many second half tax payments have already been collected, Sturgis said town staff will still be busy collecting the remaining taxes between now and April 2 since a “large volume” of tax bills are paid through residents’ mortgage companies or in person in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline.

“We will see less traffic, but it will still be extremely busy,” he said.

At a council meeting earlier this month, Jamie Garvin, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said the council will soon take a look at the possibility of tax relief for certain sectors of the community.

“I am interested in, as some of our neighboring communities have implemented in their towns, opportunities to provide some targeted tax relief to offset some of those rising costs that we face,” Garvin said.

Town Assessor Clinton Swett is expected to make a presentation March 12 about creating a tax assistance program for senior citizens.

Sturgis said a number of years ago the Legislature passed a bill that allowed municipalities to craft their own property tax reimbursement programs.

To that end, Sturgis said Cape Elizabeth may follow in the footsteps of its neighbor to the south, Scarborough, in offering a tax relief program for senior citizens who meet a series of as of yet undetermined qualifications.

“To what extent is still to be determined because the town would have to fund it. The state allows communities to do that, but if you want to do it, you have to fund it (locally),” Sturgis said.

The program, if approved by the council, would be for fiscal year 2019 taxes and at the earliest would be for taxes due in October, but likely would not go into effect until April when the second half of the 2018- 2019 taxes would be due since the council would have to craft and ordinance and fund the program.

Aside from creating a tax assistance programs for senior citizens, there are already some tax relief programs available to Cape Elizabeth residents. Some of the tax saving exemption programs that Cape Elizabeth residents are eligible for now include homestead exemption, veterans exemption and blind exemption. Through the homestead exemption program, homeowners who have owned a home in Maine for 12 months prior to April 1 could be eligible for up to a $20,000 reduction in the property valuation. Through the veterans exemption program, honorably discharged veterans 62 years old or older who served in a war period recognized by the United States Armed Services or an unmarried widow of a qualifying veteran who own a residence in Cape Elizabeth may be eligible for up to a $6,000 in reduced valuation. The blind exemption program is for homeowners who are legally blind, who can receive an exemption of up to $4,000.

The exemptions stay with the property until it is sold or the qualifying individuals move.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282- 4337, ext. 237.

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