Older Mainers have until Thursday to apply for the new Property Tax Stabilization Program that allows homeowners to freeze their tax bills year to year.
Eligible homeowners must be at least 65 years old by April 1, 2023; are permanent residents of Maine; have owned a homestead or primary dwelling in Maine for at least 10 years in total; and are eligible for a Homestead Exemption on the property. They must meet all four criteria to qualify, according to Maine Revenue Services.
Homeowners must apply by Dec. 1 at their local assessor’s office or other designated municipal office. If approved, next year’s tax bill will be the same as this year. Homeowners must reapply each year to continue paying the same amount.
Pitched by Republicans, the tax stabilization program was approved with little discussion last spring by a Democrat-controlled Legislature despite concerns about how it would be administered and funded. L.D. 290 became law in May without Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ signature.
The program has no income or asset limits, which critics said was a problem when it was proposed, and the application form requires no proof of age, which is one of several challenges that have cropped up since the program rolled out in August.
Qualifying years of homestead ownership don’t have to be consecutive, which has challenged assessors in determining eligibility. Applicants could be eligible if they have owned different homesteads in different communities for different and even disconnected periods – as long as they add up to at least 10 years.
The state is expected to reimburse municipalities for the difference between frozen and actual property tax bills. However, critics say there’s no guarantee the Legislature will fund more than the 50% that is constitutionally required to cover revenue lost via statutory tax credits and exemptions.
The law’s fiscal note projected General Fund costs of $315,000 this fiscal year, $2.6 million in fiscal 2024, $7 million in fiscal 2025 and $14 million the next year. Funding beyond fiscal 2023, which ends June 30, will be up to the incoming Legislature.
If a homeowner at any point fails to reapply for tax stabilization, the bill for the next year would be for the “normal” tax amount. The homeowner could apply for tax stabilization the next year, but the amount would then be frozen at the missed year’s tax level as long as the homeowner continued to file annual applications.
If homeowners move, they will be allowed to transfer their stabilized property tax amount to a new homestead as long as they continue to file annual applications on time.
The tax stabilization program is different from the State Property Tax Deferral Program, adopted in 2021, which allows qualifying individuals who are at least 65 or disabled to defer property tax payments on homesteads until they are sold or otherwise transferred.
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