TRURO — On her next birthday, Anna Rogers, a Truro resident with autism, will turn 22, making her ineligible for special education services through the state. But her mother, Amy, a member of the town’s commission on disabilities, is spearheading a town initiative that may help Anna ease into employment, once those services end.
Households that include individuals with disabilities may soon be eligible to have up to $1,000 per year cut from their residential property taxes. To secure this tax break, someone in the household needs to work up to 70 hours per year at an assigned town office or department. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the family member with disabilities — but the option is available for individuals hoping to acquire some work experience.
Susan Howe, the disabilities commission chair, presented this proposal to the select board on Jan. 11, drawing from Anna and Amy Rogers’s experiences. Howe told the board the commission had discussed work that could be done and expenses related to certain disabilities.
Depending on an individual’s limitations, some may not be able to work the traditional daily or weekly hours. “I don’t think that the town has any program where they want to hire people for this little amount of time,” Howe told the Independent. “Seventy hours a year is not a lot.”
She also acknowledged that the program “only offers a little bit of tax relief” but said that lifting even a small amount of financial strain will help affected families.
On Jan. 11, the select board voted 5-0 to team up with the commission and town counsel to craft a home-rule petition article for the program. It will be presented to voters at the upcoming 2022 town meeting. If approved, the program will head to the state legislature for the green light, then to the governor for his signature.
The plan follows the blueprint of Truro’s existing senior municipal service program. Full-time residents over 60 can have their residential property taxes reduced in exchange for minimum-wage work in town departments. For those seeking tax breaks for the 2021 fiscal year, participants in the current senior program needed to work at least 39 hours for a $500 reduction. At most, they could accumulate 78 hours, redeemable for a $1,000 tax break. The exact total of hours for each year will vary, depending on the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $14.25 per hour.
The commission on disabilities is trying to adjust this framework, allowing another family member to put in hours on behalf of the individual with disabilities. Another detail to chisel out: criteria for what qualifies as a disability.
Howe hopes that, alongside those with physical disabilities and people on the autism spectrum, people with addictions may be eligible as well. “We don’t want to limit the tax breaks to people who are too disabled to work,” she said. “You don’t have to be severely impaired.”
Howe said the commission had discussed a straightforward way to determine who was disabled. “We just decided that we would go with a doctor’s note,” she said.
The tax breaks would be financed by drawing from the town’s overlay funds, which were built into the tax rate during the rate-setting process. The town currently sets aside around $100,000 in this account each fiscal year. The senior program, as it stands, costs the town $15,000 — enough to accommodate 15 participants, each seeking a $1,000 break.
Stephanie Rein, the select board member who serves as liaison to the commission on disabilities, looked at the numbers for 2020 and noted that only six-and-a-half seniors — six full-time and one on the half-time plan — used the funding. “We didn’t even reach the 15 people to which that allotment was available,” she said at the meeting. “I believe that’s due to limitations on being able to work due to the pandemic.”
If the commission on disabilities proposal uses this senior program as a model and builds in 15 full-time equivalents, the assessors recommend bumping the town’s overlay up another $15,000, bringing it to $115,000 annually, according to select board meeting documents.
Rein was ready to put those numbers in context. They would mean, she said, chipping in an extra one cent per $1,000 of property value.
“So, on a million-dollar home,” she told the board, “we’re talking about a $10 tax increase in order to support 15 members of our community.”