Legislation Would Allow Seniors to Earn Property Tax Credit by Volunteering

Senator Cynthia A. Coyle

Rhode Island Senator Cynthia A. Coyne Photo Credit: Rhode Island General Assembly

According to SmartAsset, a financial technology company aiming to provide the best personal finance advice on the web, Rhode Island has property taxes that rank among the ten highest of any state. Older Rhode Islanders will benefit from Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne’s legislation being considered by the Rhode Island General Assembly that would allow them to put their time and skills to good use helping their cities and towns, while reducing their property taxes.   Spouses of residents at  West View Nursing & Rehabilitation Center residing in the community would benefit if the legislation is passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo.

If enacted, this legislation would authorize the state’s 39 cities and towns to establish programs to offer tax credits to age 60 plus property owners in exchange for volunteer hours. While each city and town adopting the program could set its own parameters, the legislation would allow them to let older tax payers to earn up to $1,500 off their property taxes.

Senate Bill 2668, which had a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on April 26, 2018, is supported by AARP Rhode Island and is cosponsored by Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), Sen. Jeanine Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) and Sen.Marc A. Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

A Win-Win for Seniors and Municipalities

“Many older property owners, particularly retirees, struggle under the burden of their property taxes. Allowing them to reduce their tax liability by volunteering for their city or town lets them use some resources they have — time and skills — to lighten the load. This could benefit municipalities too, because seniors are very dependable volunteers who have a lifetime of skills and experience to offer,” said Coyne, a former Rhode Island State Trooper. “This is an idea that would benefit seniors as well as municipalities, which can assign the volunteers to whatever they need done. In these days of tight municipal budgets, it could bring in some very valuable volunteers for cash-strapped towns,” said the two-term Democratic lawmaker representing District 32 covering Barrington, Bristol, and East Providence.

Under the bill, municipalities that adopt the program by a resolution or ordinance of their city or town council would be authorized to allow property owners age 60 and over to volunteer in exchange for a reduction in their tax liability equal to the minimum wage per hour volunteered (currently $10.10, rising to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2019). The legislation caps the reduction at $1,500 annually. The credits would not be considered income for tax purposes. The bill also allows towns, if they choose, to allow representatives to earn credits on behalf of seniors who are physically unable to volunteer. Newport already has a program that allows seniors to earn up to $500 off their taxes by volunteering for the city, and similar programs exist in Massachusetts, Maine and Pennsylvania.

The Many Benefits of Being a Volunteer

“The program’s financial benefits could better enable some seniors to afford to remain longer in the homes they love,” said Coyne, noting that regular volunteer work would also have social and physical benefits, too, by keeping seniors connected to their communities and people in them, keeping them mentally and physically active and providing the fulfilling sense of purpose that comes with volunteer work. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a study of Americans age 60 plus found that those who volunteer reported lower disability and higher levels of well-being than those who don’t volunteer. The effects of volunteering were found to be greater than other factors including income, education level or marriage, says the Senator.

There certainly is room for fresh thinking about ways that we engage volunteers as a means of building strong communities,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell, in response to the submitted bill. “This opens the door to many new ideas of ways to reward people who offer their time an energy to do good work. We should remember, however, that volunteer work provides its own rewards. The debate over this proposal should help stimulate ways cities and town can get people of all ages more involved in positive civic activity that benefits everyone.”

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