November 8, 2006
LOCAL OPTION PROPERTY TAX REDUCTIONS FOR SENIOR VOLUNTEERS IN MASSACHUSETTS
By: Helga Niesz, Principal Analyst
You asked about a Massachusetts law allowing towns to offer a property tax reduction exemption for seniors who contribute a certain number of hours at volunteer work for the town.
Massachusetts law allows all cities and towns to establish a program allowing people over age 60 to volunteer to provide services for the municipality and, in exchange, receive a property tax reduction of up to $750 annually. The law allows crediting volunteers for the hours they work at the current minimum hourly wage. The tax reduction equals the value of their credited pay. And it authorizes the localities to set their own local rules to implement the programs in any way consistent with the law. (Mass Gen. Laws Ch. 59 § 5K, available at http://www.mass.gov /legis/laws/mgl/59-5k.htm). The state does not reimburse the towns for the reduction, since the participants are providing services in exchange.
When the legislature first passed the law in 1999, it limited the tax reduction amount to $500 but increased it to the current $750 in 2002. People who qualify for this program can still be eligible for other tax abatement programs. The Department of Revenue's most recent guidelines for the program, issued after the 2002 change (IGR 02-210), can be found at http://www.dls.state.ma.us/PUBL/IGR/2002/ 02_210.pdf
Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns; 129 of these have implemented such programs, now called Senior Tax Workoff Program or sometimes Senior Service Program, according to a September 2005 State Auditor's Report. Municipalities have set varying income limits and accept only people with skills they need for this program. Over 2,400 seniors worked off $1.3 million in property taxes in 2004. The report, which also describes the state's other senior tax relief programs, can be found at http://www.mass.gov/sao/seniortaxexemptions05.pdf
Following are descriptions of several towns' workoff programs: