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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — Selectmen have endorsed an implementation plan for the property tax work-off program developed by the Council on Aging (COA) — and the council’s offer to run it — while they look into some remaining questions.

The plan, under which 10 senior homeowners chosen by lottery will have the opportunity to work part-time for the town for minimum wage, to be applied against their property taxes, was approved by town meeting May 1.

Selectmen are responsible for setting the program parameters.

Participants would be paid $7.50 per hour for the remainder of this calendar year and $8 per hour next year for part-time work up to a maximum of $600 earned.

That figure was chosen, COA Director Sharon Mercurio said, because it is the maximum a citizen can earn before needing to fill out a tax return. Similar guidelines are used in determining fuel assistance eligibility.

Mercurio will maintain the records, answering town administrator Robert Hanson’s question as to whether his office would do so. She said she hoped to begin accepting applications by June 1.

Mercurio said the COA has determined that the $6,000 total cost of the program — the anticipated lost tax revenue which town meeting agreed to replace — is an abatement and should be taken out of the town’s overlay budget.

Hanson broached one question that selectmen will be examining: Whether it is appropriate to prohibit town employees from the work-off program lottery in order to avoid state ethics law conflicts. “It’s easier to just say no,” Hanson said.

“It might be easier, but is it right?” asked Selectman Joseph Sergi.

“How about volunteers?” asked Chairman Darrell Gilmore.

“A volunteer is not an employee,” Hanson said. “I’m suggesting you’ll open Pandora’s Box.”

“It’s nice to have wiggle room if you need to make an adjustment,” Selectman Lyndon Johnson said. “I can see how the Ethics Commission would be concerned.”

Hanson noted that the law prohibits earning two sources of income from a municipal government.

“You’re also guilty if you give the appearance of doing so. I would suggest it is easier to avoid everything at once,” he reiterated, guessing ethics rules apply to anyone on a payroll, not a stipend. Sergi said he wanted a legal opinion.

The program’s goals, as defined by the COA, are to assist senior citizens with property tax bills and increase their involvement in municipal government.

The minimum age is 60, applicants must own and occupy the pertinent property for at least 10 years and only one abatement or application is allowed per household. Income limits are $35,000 per year for single persons and a gross income for married couples of $50,000 per year.

Applicants must have appropriate skills, to which they and the department heads must agree. This year’s program will run from July 1 to Dec. 31.

Applications are available at the COA starting June 1 with a June 29 return deadline. Participants must re-apply each year, are exempt from state but not federal taxes on their earnings, and participation will not exempt them from any local exemptions for which they are eligible.

If participants qualify for the state “circuit breaker” tax credit, the amount they may be eligible for could be affected by their participation. Abatements for work performed between July 1 and Dec. 31 will be credited to the February 2008 tax bill.

Applications are sent to Pepperell Council on Aging, 37 Nashua Road, Pepperell, MA, 01463

For more information call (978) 433-0326.