Property Taxes: Improving the “Senior Freeze” Program

tt156.pngThe subject of my topic this week is a lesson that you can improve the tax system in favor of New Jersey residents who pay some of the highest property taxes in U.S. bureaucracy.

I recently introduced a proposal with my colleagues, Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Wayne DeAngelo, which transforms the Senior Freeze Property Tax Rebate into a direct credit on their tax bill. For several decades, the “senior freeze” provided reimbursement checks to eligible seniors and disabled residents to help alleviate some of the financial pressures of New Jersey’s never-ending battle with property taxes.

Under my proposal, A4608, we would replace the checks with a direct credit on eligible individuals’ thirdand fourth-quarter tax bill. The new approach would be direct and predictableThe current program, while popular, comes with a hitch.

It can be a burden for many taxpayers that are eligible for the senior freeze program to pay their taxes and wait for a reimbursement on the back end. This way, the credit is applied directly to their property tax bill. We think this will help our seniors to be able to stay in their homes, without the aforementioned burden, and have the rebate be effective in achieving that goal.

By administering this rebate program with this suggested approach, the home property tax credit program not only will deliver savings to eligible senior and disabled residents in their current tax year, but it will also save taxpayer dollars by cutting administrative costs to the states. For example, the cost and time to mail those checks disappearGiven the hefty burden that property taxes pose, real-time relief is what we need to be striving for. 

In the interest of fairness, we would provide a “good cause” extension for an applicant who provides sufficient proof that they could not meet the deadline.This might include illness or hospitalization (verified by a doctor’s certification) or proof that they made a good-faith effort in meeting the target date. Some homeowners pay property taxes indirectly because they live in a cooperative, mutual housing corporation or continuing care retirement community. These individuals would still receive a rebate check. 

This ideal would essentially help an estimated 160,000 New Jersey residents, mostly seniors and disabled, who pay property taxes while reducing overall state administrative costs. It’s a “common sense” bill that should appeal to all. That’s why it recently passed unanimously in the Assembly. 

We await the governor’s approval on this bill, which has gained some urgency. He has indicated that he will place a hold on a planned expansion of the program that haintended to keep pace with inflation. We live with the uncomfortable truth of our residents paying the highest property taxes in the land. This “common sense” bill is a move in the right direction because it eases the pain of waiting for a reimbursement, and it reduces the administrative costs that all taxpayers subsidize. That’s my take, what’s yours?


Showing 6 reactions

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  • commented 2017-03-19 23:25:22 -0400
    Dear Assemblyman Singleton,

    I certainly appreciate that you included the disabled in your discussion, since I am a non-senior citizen disabled person and too often, we are “forgotten”, just like the name of the Property Tax Rebate (PTR), AKA “Senior Freeze.” My medical insurance carrier delineates the specifics for Seniors but does not mention the disabled when they mean the rule applies to both. I have had to repeatedly contact representatives to make sure the discussion applies to me.

    Regarding this topic, I suggest that instead of a rebate, why not take the funds off our bill BEFORE we have to pay it and settle up with a 3rd and/or 4th Quarter correction when the August tax bill is determined? Why must we come up with the funds that we are not responsible to pay? Income tax does not work that way, why aren’t PTR property taxes calculated and paid in the same way as income taxes? This year, my total rebate (PTR + Homestead rebate) is about 47% of tax bill that I had to “prepay” last year. As you might predict, my property taxes are a sizeable portion of my total fixed income, ie, 18%. I have to be very careful with my funds to assure I have enough for my tax bill prior to receiving the rebates. In other words, my fixed income has increased by less than 1/5 of the dollar increase in my property taxes paid during that same period (since I’ve been eligible for the PTR). These large year over year property tax increases vs inadequate fixed income increases eliminate the ability for us to combat inflation in the grocery store, insurance costs (car, home, medical, etc.), pay for home maintenance and other day to day expenses. We progressively become poorer each year without any ability to earn additional income.

    This is why I believe Margaret Shoe (below) opined in her comments that these costs force us to move out of our homes. However, the number of students in Cinnaminson High School is literally half the number as when I graduated (there were ~375 in my graduating class). Since the baby boom is over, I think it is safe to assume that the number of students in the rest of Cinnaminson Twp. has similarly declined.

    I have always understood that when you live in a community, the costs of running the township should be shared among the inhabitants. But it is odd that my parents are still paying for their children’s schooling and they are in their 80s and 90s. I, myself, am paying for children I never had. While the PTR makes up for some of it, the percentage of the cost of education in this township is so high that despite a nearly 50% rebate in my case, I am still paying for education costs. While this is a little off topic, it does apply to the financial stress we are under. I just wanted to mention that Cinnaminson High School “needed” $6.8 million for an additional gymnasium since it was “over crowded”. I grew up here and attended Cinnaminson HS, and at that time, there were LITERALLY twice the number of students enrolled and we managed fine. I played sports all three seasons, so I have direct knowledge. We were not crowded, we just scheduled sports programs intelligently. I mention this because this is why I did not support such expenditures since I’ve lived it and it was a completely exorbitant project. Due to the ratio of families with children vs those without children/with children old enough to be grandparents themselves, we have little power to vote down such extravagant tax burdens. Sure, the school needed updating, and those costs are reasonable, but not the addition of an another gym with the poor excuse that people that wanted to attend games might not fit in the stands. This may be why those on a fixed income are so distressed over such measures being passed. While working folks in the community apparently could afford this huge tax hike since it passed, but we on a fixed income cannot. But, if we did not have to prepay in the light if high tax increases, the pressure on us would be eliminated with the tax freeze.

    While the legislation that you discussed is a step in the right direction, it still puts a burden on us. Please consider that there are better ways to alter this legislation. Even if the township has to check on our status to do as I suggested, that is much less of a burden on us.

    Sincerely,

    Lynne A. Lihotz
    Cinnaminson, NJ
    Disabled Retiree
    Senior Scientist
    R&D Biochemist, Chemist, Biologist
    Wyeth Laboratories (now Pfizer, CT)
  • commented 2017-03-17 10:02:57 -0400
    Assemblyman Singleton, If you really wanted to help Seniors and save the State processing money you would enter a bill that reduces Seniors Property Taxes by the 2/3 of their bill that is for Schools. Isn’t paying school taxes for 50 years enough. If you reduced the Property taxes by the School tax portion Seniors could stay in their homes and not leave the State. This reduction would reduce the need to build more Schools because Seniors would not be selling to people who have two or three children and therefore need more schools and less infrastructure costs as Seniors are not traveling the same way the working class is every day.
    Your proposal is a one inch bandage on a one foot open wound.
  • commented 2017-03-16 20:46:16 -0400
    Assemblyman Singleton, how about proposing a bill to do away property taxes altogether for Seniors. And change the definition of Seniors to person over 70 or 72 years old.
  • commented 2017-03-16 17:44:21 -0400
    That is a good idea for people on a fixed income. I know because my property taxes just went up a $150.00 a month! I think another good idea like that should help everyone. I guess i will just keep working?