Senior tax program returns nearly $19,000

PAT FRIDGEN

The Senior Citizen Tax Exchange Program is alive and well, benefitting both participants and the school district, secretary Diane Haugh told the Greencastle-Antrim school board Oct. 1. She administers the program, initiated in 1992.

"Other districts have tried this and phased it out," she said.

In Greencastle the program clicked, from 13 seniors who earned $567 worth of rebates from their property tax bills that first year, to 287 people in 2008-09 who saved $18,953. That came as a result of 2,622 hours of volunteered time.

The previous year saw even higher figures, assisting 296 taxpayers with 2,931 hours of volunteering, resulting in $20,973 in rebates.

Haugh said in the past the senior citizens volunteered in person in the school buildings. "Few come in to the district any more because of the screening policy. Parent volunteers donate their hours to the program. It's very well received on both ends. I get a lot of thank yous."

She said later that only 17 seniors actually put in volunteer hours, and they work from home stuffing envelopes for the school and the tax office, and do other paperwork.

The average financial benefit to the participating seniors with 22 hours of credit was $66 reimbursed from their tax bill payments. In 2007-08 the average rebate was $77. The board adopted the program again for the current school year.

Purpose

The Senior Citizen Tax Exchange Program objective is to provide a tax relief for senior citizens or unemployed handicapped residents in exchange for their services, or from another person working on their behalf, according to the school district's procedures and guidelines. The program encourages interested seniors to become involved in working with young students, fostering a valuable and needed relationship between the two age groups. It also seeks to improve community support of the district's goal of a quality education for students.

The program is open to residents 65 years of age or older, or unemployed handicapped, all of whom pay real estate taxes for the property in which they reside. Tenants who qualify can get up to $50 if their rental increase is due to a real estate tax increase.

The reimbursement is up to the equivalent of 4.2 mills in exchange for volunteering at the rate of $7.15 per hour. People can work in the areas of custodial, business office, library, cafeteria, environmental center or classroom, depending on their talents, work experience and expertise. If they are unable to work, they may request someone else to work for them.

The school district also offers to ask regular volunteers to work a senior's hours if the senior doesn't know whom to ask. Haugh said often parents who donate their hours don't even know the identity of the person their time benefits.

The resolution adopted Thursday encourages the growing population of senior citizens to become involved, which will mutually benefit the district and the students. Applications are available in the business office.

Because the school did not raise property taxes for this fiscal year, the school board agreed with Haugh's recommendation not to adjust the formula in determining rebates.