Changes are in the works to enhance the town’s tax-relief program for seniors.

Proposed changes in the property-tax abatement program would grant larger credits to a senior’s annual bill, depending on their respective tax bracket, according to Assessor Paul Friia.

Under the plan, seniors who make $25,000 or less annually can qualify for a tax abatement up to $4,200. If a senior’s income ranges between $25,000 and $35,000, a $3,600 abatement is available; with income of $35,000 to $45,000 the abatement is $2,400, and if income is $45,000 to $65,000, the tax abatement is $1,200. In years past, the cap was at $55,000.

The local tax-abatement levels haven’t been changed since 2006, and under the proposed changes, would rise 20 percent, Friia said. The ordinance also provides an automatic increase in the abatement annually if the consumer price index increases. But if the CPI declines, the abatement will stay the same. The Representative Town Meeting is expected to vote on the abatement increase in March.

"It really is a great program because it helps the seniors age in place and it was a necessary change. This gets more money to the seniors who really need it. And the goal is to direct the most money to the most needy seniors," Friia said.

Westport senior Ellie Lowenstein said she thinks the tax-relief program is a good idea because of how high the cost of living in town is. "It’s not cheap,” she said. “These people have been contributing to Westport for years. If they can stay in their house it’s a great idea.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe said he was encouraged by the initiative to help seniors. "I was very pleased that the selectman’s office was able to work with the assessor, Board of Finance and RTM to revise and update the senior citizen rebate referral program for property taxes,” he said.

"For the first time in over 10 years the abatement amounts were increased for inflation, Marpe added. “Also, the process was modified so that seniors can apply for the program every two years rather than every year — this goes a long way to help our senior citizens stay in Westport.”

Previously, seniors had to apply for town tax relief every year, the change allows them to apply once every two years. Another change is in order to be eligible, an applicant is limited to owning a single property. However, Friia said that the RTM will leave the single-property rule out of the ordinance until March, when ist votes on the abatement increase. Additionally, Friia said that if someone is already in the program and has two residences, they will be allowed to remain.

Meanwhile, the town’s property tax-deferral program allows a senior to defer their taxes if they make up to $75,000, Friia said. For instance, a senior with income of $75,000 or less would be able to defer those taxes until the property is sold and, with proceeds from that sale, the taxes are paid out to the town.

For those with income exceeding $75,000 a year, the relief differs. "If you make $75,000 to $100,000, you can defer the tax increase,” Friia said. “A senior who makes $85,000 could defer anything above what original tax amount was when they applied for the deferral program.”