Proposed Greenfield tax fund would benefit elderly, residents with disabilities

MICHAEL MASTROTOTARO

MICHAEL MASTROTOTARO

WAHAB MINHAS

WAHAB MINHAS

Greenfield City Hall.

Greenfield City Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-14-2024 10:36 AM

GREENFIELD — At-Large Councilor Wahab Minhas is proposing a local tax option that would allow residents to donate to the elderly or people with disabilities who are struggling to pay their taxes.

If approved by a City Council vote, establishment of the fund would add Greenfield to the roughly 30 other Massachusetts cities and towns that have already enacted similar tax funds under a 1998 state law allowing municipalities to draft tax donation funds “for the purpose of defraying the real estate taxes of elderly and disabled persons of low income.”

In an Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting last week, Minhas presented the proposed tax fund and answered questions. He said the committee will likely vote on whether to approve the fund at its next meeting before the proposal goes to City Council. If approved, the fund’s creation would accompany the establishment of a Tax Aid Committee, operating under the Mayor’s Office, to determine how the funds can be distributed annually.

“This is a great opportunity for us, on a local level, to be able to directly help, monetarily, our residents who most need help,” Minhas said. “It’s in the spirit of trying to tackle the issue of homelessness and the issue of housing insecurity. … This is part of our agenda to try and make Greenfield a place where people are not just welcome in spirit, but also in housing availability and in being able to stay in their homes.”

Under state law, municipalities who opt in to the municipal tax program can tailor their own guidelines to determine residents’ eligibility to receive tax aid, based on factors such as their age, property value, disability level or income.

Although it is not the Appointments and Ordinances Committee’s responsibility to set these guidelines, but rather that of the future Tax Aid Committee, Minhas said most communities that have adopted similar tax funds set the eligible age at roughly 65 years old and put in place income restrictions to ensure those who collect the funds earn a salary at or below the state circuit breaker level, or roughly $62,000. Other communities, Minhas said, place an eligibility restriction on the tax aid fund, mandating that eligible taxpayers must be receiving aid for their primary homes, rather than vacation properties or rental units.

“You can define what it means to be elderly, you can define what it means to be disabled,” Minhas said. “Essentially, it’s a way to ensure that the most vulnerable among us who are struggling to pay their taxes are able to do so.”

According to state guidelines on local elderly and disabled tax funds, Greenfield’s Tax Aid Committee must comprise the Board of Assessors chair, the city treasurer and an individual appointed from the Mayor’s Office. Outside of those requirements, the city can appoint any private or public individual to serve on the committee, including city councilors or Council on Aging members.

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The optional tax donations can be included as a check-off portion of the city’s property tax bills, motor vehicle excise tax bills, or through a separate form sent alongside tax bills.

Minhas said he has already received some calls from community members who support the tax fund. Additionally, Precinct 3 Councilor Michael Mastrototaro has been one of the fund’s outspoken supporters, calling it a “no-brainer” that can supplement other pre-existing forms of tax aid for the elderly and people with disabilities. He said he wished the city had taken advantage of the 1998 law sooner.

“Homeowners, particularly the elderly, need help getting their property taxes paid and this is a great way to do it that doesn’t cost the city any money,” Mastrototaro said. “We have the senior tax write-off as well and the VA has a similar program. … It’s a great program to have and hopefully some of the bigger businesses in town will participate as well. There’s really not a whole lot to say except ‘Let’s do it.’”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.