Town programs help retirees ‘work off’ property tax bills

  • The John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 6/4/2023 1:39:34 PM

Senior retirees who own homes across Franklin County can simultaneously give back to their local government while paying off part of their property tax bills.

Senior tax work-off programs place residents over the age of 60 in a part-time position at a city department and apply their wages to one of their quarterly property tax bills, an arrangement that serves as a win-win for both parties. Town governments that lack funds to pay for another part-time employee can request a senior work-off member to assist with work. In return, retirees get financial relief from their taxes.

Greenfield’s senior work-off program accepts citizens over the age of 60 who have owned property in the city for at least five years and lived in Massachusetts for at least 10 years. Greenfield’s Council on Aging reviews the applications and decides whether applicants qualify. The 15 spots are picked through a June 1 lottery and applicants are assigned to a position based on their listed skills. With applications having been accepted in May, the chosen participants will then log hours between July 1 and Nov. 30.

According to Council on Aging Director Hope Macary, work from past years of Greenfield’s senior work-off program has included entering data for the Energy Department, preparing for elections at the Town Clerk’s Office, providing customer service for public safety work at the Health Department, and setting up and breaking down rooms for the Council on Aging. Assignments depend on the needs of each department as well as the skills of applicants.

“[Applicants] come with a remarkably wide set of skills and experience,” Macary said. “I’m always interested to see who is gonna apply, what meaningful skills are they going to share with the city to make an impact on the department.”

The Greenfield program awards up to $1,500 toward third and fourth quarter real estate tax bills.

“When a senior is living on a fixed income, and many of the applicants are widows, some folks are living off of $13,000 a year, $20,000 a year. So that $1,500 is very meaningful for those people,” Macary said.

Orange Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker also noted the positive impact of the senior tax work-off program on retired seniors living on Social Security benefits. Orange’s program offers 11 fixed positions in city departments, and jobs have always been filled in the decade Voelker’s worked as town administrator.

Unlike Greenfield, Orange takes applicants on a rolling basis. Seniors over the age of 55 are eligible if they own and reside on the taxed property. Once a senior receives a position, they retain the position so long as they reapply each year. If the senior decides to leave the position or does not reapply, Voelker moves to the next person on her list.

“I love the fact that we can help seniors with their taxes,” Voelker said. “There is a very limited amount of help out there for this sort of thing.”

Seniors participating in Orange’s program work a maximum of 100 hours in their placements, earning up to $1,500 toward the first quarterly tax bill. They can also work a limited position and have 20 hours worth of work.

Types of work vary depending on the department. Seniors clean the Highway Department, Council on Aging and Town Hall. One senior work-off employee stuffs envelopes at the Treasurer’s Office and another balances the books as an accountant.

“[Seniors get the] satisfaction of giving back to the community,” Voelker explained. “A lot of seniors love to do it because of that.”

Erving’s senior work-off program is still active, but Board of Assessors Chair Jacquelyn Boyden said no one is currently participating. Erving offers a maximum of $750 toward the following fiscal year’s tax bill. Applicants must be over 60 years old and have owned a home in Erving for at least five years.

The program takes up to 10 seniors. Erving also includes an income limit: applicants must have a gross annual income under $35,000 if single and $55,000 if married.

Boyden said she has not seen interest in the program during the past couple years, but she is looking to revisit it. The needs of the city departments have changed since the beginning of the program in 2018, so department heads need to write new job descriptions and communicate their departments’ needs to the Board of Assessors.


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