Senior Work-Off Program Needs Careful Reevaluation and Rethinking
Town Accountant Patricia Dufresne advised Selectmen that because of reporting requirements for an increase in federal income taxes from participation in the Senior Work-off Program, a number of participants have elected not to continue in the program.
She said that 20 participants turned out at the Feb. 28 meeting at the Senior Center to hear discussion of changes to the program as a result of expanded federal taxing and reporting. Based on this, six seniors said, "it wasn't worth the hassle" to them to continue. They were also concerned about their circuit breaker eligibility. So far, 18 seniors have completed the federal paperwork, and shown their passports. Dufresne was uncertain as to whether these seniors, that are now categorized as town employees, will have to undergo courses in Sexual Harassment training and Conflict of Interest, but she said she is not scheduling any of this training. "We have had a relatively positive response," she said, adding that the "only complaint is they would like to have more hours."
Dufresne said that the value of the program when it started in 2002 was about 11 percent of the tax bill based on the $500 earned, but that in 2011 that number dropped to 7.5 percent as real estate tax bills increased.
Currently eligibility for the Senior Work-off Program requires applicants to be Groton residents, and owns their own home. For their work, they are paid at a rate of $8 per hour and can "earn" up to a maximum of $500 which is credited toward their real estate tax bill.
The income eligibility for seniors is based on $65,030 for a single person and $74,300 for a married couple. This eligibility does not include any assets that the senior may own, only their income. These amounts are based on the Lowell HUD Eligibility standards for the purchase of affordable housing. Seniors have to provide proof of their income level, using their tax forms - to the Board of Assessors office.
Currently most participants are working with in the eligibility guidelines, and but there are seniors that exceed this income limit. There are 30 seniors that fall in the income limit and five that are over the income limit.
Town Manager Mark Haddad suggested that the town stick with the maximum income levels and reduce the number of slots, adding, "If we raised the amount (they can earn) to $750, we would give more money to seniors who really need it."
Selectman Josh Degen said he wanted to hold to the established income limit and not let anyone participate that exceeds that maximum income level. "The other thing that concerns me is that once they are on the municipal payroll, now they are an employee and they need to have conflict of interest training," he said.
Selectman Peter Cunningham commented that the amount "earned" could be raised to $750 for each person and open the slots to be filled based on the income requirements. He said that the original intent of the program was based on income eligibility, but that he was open to adjustment.
Haddad advised that the next round for program participation goes into effect in December. "We'll get the info out there and see who wants to participate."