As many as 15 residents who are veterans, or older than 60, may reduce their annual property tax bill by as much as $1,000, according to a vote by Special Town Meeting last Monday.
In exchange for the savings, each participant performs simple tasks for town departments, paid at minimum hourly wage, as stipulated in the law.
Voters at Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved accepting state laws, approved in 2016, that enable the exchange for up to 15 residents.
Work can be assigned by any town department, said Shawn Hanegan, presenting Article 9 on behalf of the Select Board. The usual categories are light clerical – mailing, scanning, filing, data entry.
Erin Dorr said she hopes older residents and veterans can become involved with monitoring the food waste diversion program that will be expanded from the middle school to all local public schools. “This is a great opportunity to get our seniors and veterans engaged with our youth, and vice versa,” she said.
Sandra Hackman of the Council on Aging Board cited data indicating that many residents need this opportunity.
“About one-third of Bedford householders over 65 have an annual income of less than $50,000. And 15 percent have income under $25,000, according to an assessment by UMass Boston,” she said.
“What’s more, nearly 30 percent of homeowners over the age of 65 are cost-burdened, according to the 2019 Bedford Housing Study. That is, they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, making affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care more challenging,” Hackman added.
Former Selectman Walter St. Onge cautioned against employing the eligible people as replacements for higher-paid town employees. Hanegan replied that most of the tasks in mind are not carried out currently by staff.
The program will be administered by the Council on Aging with guidelines provided through the assessors.
Other decisions emanating from Monday’s special town meeting were:
- Approval of Article 8, acceptance of a provision in state law that channels fines that are assessed for illegal parking in spaces marked handicapped for use by the Disability Commission. Expenditures must be used “solely for the benefit of persons with disabilities.” Select Board member Emily Mitchell said the town has collected about $400 for such violations over the past three years. In answer to a question, she said the commission is under the auspices of the town manager and not subject to a separate budget review. Resident Anne Bickford commented that the value of spending on accessibility far exceeds this amount and shouldn’t be linked to this.
- Approval of Article 14, which establishes a stabilization fund for money received through the state from court settlements related to litigation against pharmaceutical companies. Under the terms of the settlement, the money can be spent on resources for substance abuse disorder prevention, education, treatment, and harm reduction. Town meeting’s vote transferred more than $87,000 from free cash, where it was deposited as a holding place. Hanegan said funds can be allocated by the Police and Health and Human Services Departments.
- Approval of Article 13, a bylaw amendment designed to improve water system reliability by closer monitoring and updating connection points at backflows and meters. The amendment changes testing frequency and replacement schedules for some meters.
- Approval of Article 12, a bylaw amendment that simplifies the permitting process for a street opening in the case of a driveway repaving. It also broadens the range of objects considered sidewalk obstructions.
- Approval of Article 11, establishing a tree protection and preservation bylaw. This is designed to provide authority to the Select Board when penalties are set for violations of the town tree policy. The bylaw also empowers the board to enforce mitigation arrangements. Molly Haskell, chair of the Arbor Resources Committee, said the bylaw will carry more authority than a policy. She emphasized that “privately-owned trees on private property remain unregulated.” Resident Bruce Wisentaner asked how this would affect trees cleared by the Trails Committee. Haskell explained that trees considered hazardous are “not controversial,” and no fees or mitigation are involved.