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Minerva could let more seniors enroll in tax-saving program

— With one of Essex County's most restrictive policies for giving tax breaks to low-income seniors, the Minerva Town Board could loosen its rules and let more seniors enroll in a tax-saving program.

Older residents on a strapped budget can apply for a 50 percent discount on their municipal taxes through the so-called Senior Citizen Exemption.

Homeowners who are at least 65 years old and have incomes of $15,000 or less can apply to the town for the exemption. Those approved are billed half of the town tax they would otherwise pay. This exemption is separate from the New York State School Tax Relief Program, or STAR, exemption.

Minerva's eligibility cut-off hasn't changed since at least 2004. Increasing the income ceiling would lighten the financial burden of more seniors at the bottom of the income scale, but it also would likely decrease town tax revenue or shift the tax burden to other homeowners.

More than half of Essex County municipalities, including the county itself, offer the state-mandated maximum 50 percent senior exemptions to those with incomes of $25,000 or less. Only one town in the county has a lower cut-off than Minerva's — St. Armand, at $9,000.

Four towns have sliding scales that give tax breaks to seniors with incomes as high as $32,400, but the discounts grow smaller as their income approaches the higher ceiling.

Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey said she is researching how changes in eligibility would impact the town's levy. Discussion about a change would occur no earlier than January, and a revamp, if approved, would affect fiscal 2013 tax rolls.

The topic of senior exemptions was introduced but not discussed during the Town Board's Dec. 15 meeting, after the county sent an annual letter asking if towns had changed the policy. There is no indication about what, if any, changes board members would make to the eligibility policy.

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