Westport RTM approves tax deferment program

RTM Secretary Jacquelyn Fuchs and RTM Moderator Velma Heller listen on at a RTM meeting on Feb. 4.

RTM Secretary Jacquelyn Fuchs and RTM Moderator Velma Heller listen on at a RTM meeting on Feb. 4.

DJ Simmons /Hearst Connecticut Media /

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting unanimously voted to approve a tax deferment program that will provide relief to those suffering economically because of the coronavirus crisis.

“The deferment program targets the neediest taxpayers and offers the greatest benefit to them at a zero percent interest,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said at the RTM meeting Wednesday.

The program would give taxpayers who qualify a three-month grace period to pay, he said, which would be July 2 for taxes typically due on April 1. It does not apply to those who have their taxes escrowed with their mortgages.

Residents qualify if they saw a 20 percent income reduction because they were unemployed, furloughed or experiencing a pay cut. Businesses and nonprofits qualify if they experienced a 30 percent revenue reduction between March and June as compared with last year. Landlords can qualify if their income has been significantly reduced or provide documentation showing they’ve given rent forbearance to tenants.

“This is to try and make sure what we’re doing is aimed at the people who need it most,” Marpe said.

Applicants will have until May 22 to submit forms for the program, he said.

Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern said knowing how long and deep the coronavirus crisis will be is key.

“It was the view of the Board of Finance that caution is the most important element of decisions we make right now,” he said.

The finance board gave its approval of the program on April 15. Stern said the finance board’s first priority was to help those immediately in need.

“We think the second priority is to be prudent with our cash reserves because we don’t know how long this is going to last, and who knows what other disasters from the state may trickle down to our little town,” he said.

RTM members roundly supported the program, but some raised concerns if eligibility requirements barred others in need.

“It’s a compassionate impulse to put forward this sort of program, but I’m worried that it’s under-inclusive and that there are people out there who are hurting or will be hurting in eight weeks who might not fall neatly into one of the categories,” RTM member Mark Friedmann said.

Friedmann said he wanted to ensure there was flexibility to help those who didn’t fall into the categories

Town attorney Ira Bloom said some towns who offered tax relief for everybody had a larger percentage of taxpayers who had their tax paid by escrow agents.

“So there’s less risk for the remaining 30 percent to worry about,” Bloom said. “So that seems to be one factor.”

Marpe said in the next few months officials will see the financial implications of the public health crisis.

“I think that will help inform and support arguments to the governor that we need to be more creative in how we’re helping people with their taxes,” he said.