Senior tax freeze: Spalthoff pledges to pursue; Blake says you have to look at the implications

Peter Spalthoff, Republican and Independent Party candidate in next month’s Milford mayoral election, has proposed a property tax freeze for seniors. Incumbent Mayor Ben Blake, on the other hand, said he cannot make such a promise without studying the tax implications.

Spalthoff, gearing up for the November election, recently suggested that Milford seniors need more help.

“Soon our seniors will not be able to afford to live here, there is a two-year wait or longer on senior housing, and property taxes just keep going higher and higher,” Spalthoff said.

“When elected, I will go to work immediately on a tax freeze for our seniors that are over 65. I am also a senior, and I understand full well what it is like to be on a fixed income,” Spalthoff said.

Spalthoff pointed to other cities in Connecticut where a tax freeze has been successful. “It is just a way to help those seniors get by in these tough economic times,” he said. “It allows them a better opportunity to enjoy those golden years in the place they always called home.”

Spalthoff recently pointed out a decline in Milford’s population and said he sees increases in annual taxes as a major factor.

“A tax freeze right now really makes good sense,” Spalthoff said.

Responding to Spalthoff’s announcement, Blake said he would not make such a pledge without understanding the numbers involved.

“As mayor, you need to be responsible when you talk about taxes and spending,” Blake said. “These discussions have a big impact on people’s lives. You really need to understand the numbers and budget impact before you make pledges.”

Blake said that as Board of Aldermen chairman in 2008, he helped create a committee to review senior tax relief.

“We didn’t just make promises, we did the work necessary, analyzed the relevant financial data, determined the scope and impact, and we studied time horizons, property values and tax fairness,” Blake said.

As a result, he said, Milford adopted one of the strongest senior tax relief programs in the state.

“Last year we took another look at the program and the substantive data, and I am very proud that we were able to further improve senior tax relief in Milford — ensuring those seniors who have made our city great aren’t driven from their homes while guaranteeing a fair and equitable tax structure for all city residents,” Blake said.

It is difficult to say how much a senior tax freeze would cost the city, said City Assessor Dan Thomas.

He would have to know the specifics of such a program, such as who qualified and how much their taxes generally go up in a given year.

Thomas said the state funded a senior tax relief program about 20 or 30 years ago, but that has been phased out.

The tax freeze program of 2006 gives towns the option to initiate a local freeze program for people age 70 or older, or a surviving spouse who is at least 62 when the homeowner dies.

But unlike the former tax freeze program, this new option is not state reimbursed.

“Therefore, any revenue lost by a town is not supplemented by state funding,” according to tax information that Thomas provided.

The mayoral candidates’ party chairmen offered differing views on the proposal.

Rich Smith, Democratic Town Committee chairman, said he doesn’t see Spalthoff’s proposal as a serious one.

“Peter is on record committing to all kinds of spending, he’s going to spend money on Eisenhower Park, buy the Stone property, freeze taxes, give city departments more money, and use our city’s contingency fund to give money to charities for his liking,” Smith said. “What Peter conveniently leaves out of his campaign rhetoric is, Where is all this money coming from? He will need to do one of two things — significantly raise taxes on homeowners and business to pay for all his extravagant campaign promises or make severe cuts to the budget, which would require layoffs and a drastic reduction in services. You can’t have it both ways.”

Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith counters that by arguing that as the school system has found big savings in energy expenses, savings can be found within city departments to pay for a senior tax freeze.

“We believe we should do everything we can to stabilize senior taxes with a program much like the one in Danbury,” Beckwith said.

He said under Spalthoff’s proposal, senior taxes will be frozen at the current level, and savings would be found within the city to pay the difference.

“This will not be pushed along to the other taxpayers,” Beckwith said.