Westport First Selectman gives first view of tax deferral program
WESTPORT — The Board of Finance gave its approval in the first view of First Selectman Jim Marpe’s tax deferral program to help those suffering economically because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The idea here is to make sure that the people in our town who are suffering immediate economic consequences — we’ll offer them the possibility of deferring taxes,” Marpe said at the meeting on Wednesday. “This is a deferment program, it’s not a forgiveness program.”
The program aims to give taxpayers a three-month grace period to pay. The plan comes in response to Gov. Ned Lamont’s Executive Order April 1. It requires municipalities to offer tax relief programs to those suffering from economic hardships caused by COVID-19.
As part of the program, Marpe said taxes that were due April 1 would now be due July 2 for those qualified. Normally, he said, the taxes would be due by April 30. Marpe said Westport is one of only 12 municipalities in the state that collects taxes quarterly.
“We will also be looking at July 1 and that period as well in what would be the first quarter of the new fiscal year,” Marpe said.
Finance board members gave their support for the program.
Member Lee Caney outlined qualification requirements for eligibility:
Residents would qualify if they saw a 20 percent income reduction since April 1 from being unemployed, furloughed without pay or experiencing a pay cut. Caney said if a resident doesn’t meet these requirements, but shows another reason their income was reduced by 20 percent, the town has discretion in allowing them to participate.
Businesses and nonprofits would qualify if they experienced 30 percent revenue reductions between March and June as compared with last year, Caney said. Landlords can qualify if their income has been significantly reduced and provide documentation showing they’ve given forbearance to tenants.
BOF Chair Brian Stern said the rules and regulations will be applied property-by-property.
“I think particularly for landlords that makes a difference,” he said. “Some office spaces, for example — my understanding is most folks aren’t paying the rent. It’s the retail, it’s gyms, it’s restaurants, it’s things like that where the hardships are happening.”
Tax Assessor Paul Friia, whose office will manage the evaluation process, said landlords will need rent documentation such as an amendment to a lease. He added his office was best fit for the process because it is familiar with expense and income reports.
“It’s almost a natural fit for us to handle that aspect of it and to process the rest of the form as well,” he said.
Marpe said the program would not apply to those who have their taxes escrowed with their mortgages, which is around 30 percent of the town’s taxpayers.
“We’re trying to focus this on the people who are willing to admit they need this the most,” Marpe said.
Those who have not yet paid their April taxes will have until May 15 to apply for a deferral for that period, he said.
The Representative Town Meeting will next review and vote on the proposal at its meeting on April 22.