Strong communities are built upon an intergenerational compact. We educate our young, who in turn take their places in society, sharing in the caring for our older neighbors and family members.
In calling for a debt exclusion to rebuild the high school and an operating override, the Select Board seeks to balance the needs of our younger and older residents. Arlington has been designated an Age-Friendly Community, which enables people to age in place and to maintain strong connections to the greater community. We can further those aspirations by promoting mobility options for our older residents, providing other avenues of assistance, and alleviating the tax burden for those on fixed incomes.
One of the most consistent complaints I have heard as a Select Board Member concerns deteriorating sidewalks and bricks, which make it difficult for seniors to walk safely.
We have made great strides toward a solution, supporting the removal of bricks as part of Senior Center renovations and dedicating parking meter revenue toward fixing this problem throughout Arlington Center. If voters approve the override, we are committed to increasing base budgets by one-quarter million dollars to complete the job of sidewalk brick removal and to provide additional support to our pedestrian infrastructure and senior transportation program. These actions are particularly important, as the Select Board has traditionally supported senior transportation with federal CDBG funds, which have been threatened with elimination by Washington.
Support for our seniors goes beyond issues of mobility or housing or the availability of other assistance programs. It also goes beyond funding for strong public safety, public libraries, public works, and public parks, all of which will be preserved by a successful override vote.
Seniors on fixed incomes have expressed worries about their ability to pay for property tax increases. The Select Board has heard those concerns and worked with Town Meeting, our legislative delegation, and others over the past years to adopt the following relief measures:
In 2012, Town Meeting lowered the interest rate for property tax deferrals for older residents and voted to increase the annual income limit for seniors to qualify for property tax deferrals.
In 2014, the Select Board, Town Meeting, and voters all approved a full exemption from Community Preservation Act surcharges for income-eligible property owners, including those who would otherwise qualify for senior housing. This was in addition to a partial exemption for all property owners
In 2017, we created senior and veterans property tax work-off programs, and well as an Elderly and Disabled Tax Relief Fund. We also approved a Consumer Price Index adjustment for older residents, allowing more people to take advantage of certain tax exemptions.
In 2018, we approved home rule legislation to give us greater flexibility to expand eligibility for the Town’s property tax deferral program.
This year, the Select Board and Town Meeting will consider dramatically increasing income limits for the deferral program. We are also taking up home rule legislation to create a municipal circuit breaker program for income-eligible seniors that would provide assistance above and beyond popular state relief programs.
For further information on how to access the above-listed programs, as well as numerous other forms of assistance, residents are encouraged to contact the Council on Aging at (781) 316-3400. On Thursday, May 23rd at 2 p.m. at the Senior Center, the Council on Aging is holding a forum on senior tax relief. It is co-sponsored by the Select Board and Arlington’s state legislative delegation, and representatives from the Assessors’ Office will be in attendance.
In addition to targeted tax relief programs, the Select Board has committed to removing $5,593,112 of water and sewer debt from property tax bills and shifting it to the water bill. While the result of this shift will be increased water and sewer rates, the change puts greater control in the hands of Arlington residents and will disproportionately benefit smaller households with lower water utilization. Many such households are headed by seniors.
There is broad agreement that we must rebuild our high school and provide current and future Arlington students with educational opportunities comparable to those enjoyed by past generations. We all benefit from investments in our schools and other public services and infrastructure that ultimately accrue to residents through a higher quality of life and increased home values. Many seniors’ homes represent their most valuable asset and an important part of their retirement savings.
We honor the past by building the future. I am reminded of the famous line from Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” This is a time to plant, a time to build up, and a time to gather stones together.
Please join me on Tuesday, June 11th in supporting our intergenerational compact by voting Yes for both ballot questions.
Joe Curro is a member of the Arlington Select Board.