WESTFIELD — When the Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Program was suspended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “major changes” were made, according to Tina Gorman, executive director of the Westfield Senior Center.
Gorman noted the city’s Council on Aging had been considering altering the program in several ways.
“Participation had dropped off in recent years, prior to COVID, and the feedback was that older adults were hoping for more of a tax break than the $500 maximum allowed,” said Gorman. “With support from [the] COA liaisons, city councilors Ralph Figy and Jim Adams, the changes were brought to the City Council in order to modify the existing ordinance.”
The maximum tax credit has been increased from $500 to $800 per household, and the number of tax work-off program participants has been reduced from 40 to 25.
“Priority is given to those applicants who have not participated in the program in the past,” said Gorman.
Volunteer jobs in the public schools include school greeter, library assistant and reading tutor.
“Some volunteers are assigned to a specific classroom and assist in a number of ways,” said Gorman.
There are also volunteer jobs available at the animal shelter, where tasks include cleaning the dog kennels and dog runs, washing and folding blankets and towels, sweeping and mopping floors, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom areas, and assisting with office filing.
“Volunteers must work at least 58 hours, distributed evenly over an eight-month period, in order to receive the full $800 tax credit,” said Gorman.
If a volunteer is accepted into the program, he or she will begin working in November, and all hours must be completed by the end of the school year in June 2022.
“Volunteers average about two to three hours per week,” said Gorman, adding it is difficult to assess what this year’s participation will be with COVID-19 protocols in place.
“If we receive more than 25 applications, we’ll give priority to those who have not participated in the program in the past,” said Gorman, adding, “leftover slots will be by lottery.”
Anyone interested in the program should contact Gorman by calling 413-562-6435, and will receive an application packet in the mail. A completed application and supporting documentation must be delivered to her in person by Oct. 22 at 3 p.m.
To be eligible, participants must be 60 or older at the time of application, a resident of Westfield, property owner of record at the time of application or spouse of the owner, willing and able to work for the stipulated timeframe, current on all tax payments, and willing to supply references and agree to a criminal record check. Additionally, volunteers this year must provide verification of COVID-19 vaccination. Each household is limited to one $800 work-off participant.
Participants must also meet income eligibility requirements, earning up to $38,640 per year in gross income, including Social Security, for a single-person household, and $52,260 gross income, including Social Security, for a couple. A copy of the applicant’s latest tax return must also be submitted.
“As soon as all supporting documentation is verified and references contacted, the participants will be notified,” said Gorman. “We hope to have the volunteers placed in early November.”
Supervisors of the program include Gorman and the placement/site supervisor, and attendance at a mandatory orientation session with the placement supervisor is required.
Placement at a particular site is determined by matching applicant skills with available requests, and, depending on the city department, an interview, noted Gorman.
“For those older adults who are already volunteering in the schools, the Tax Work-Off Program is a simple way to get a break on their city property taxes if they meet the criteria,” said Gorman. “For those who are looking to give back to the community, the program is a win-win.”