As property taxes keep rising, focus turns to relief

Murphy, Democratic lawmakers boost ‘senior freeze’ and other popular programs as election nears
Credit: (Ali Eminov from Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0)
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New Jersey has been expanding the numbers of seniors and disabled homeowners who can qualify for one of the state’s most cherished tax relief programs, all part of a renewed focus in Trenton on property taxes.

Several years after cost-of-living adjustments for the popular senior-freeze relief program were restored by lawmakers — following a long period when they were artificially held flat to hold down costs — the program’s income limits have now soared to over $90,000.

The senior freeze, which gets its nickname from reimbursements qualified homeowners receive to effectively offset increases, or “freeze,” their property-tax bills, received nearly $220 million in the budget for the 2022 fiscal year Gov. Phil Murphy signed in late June.

Apply through Nov. 1

And in more recent weeks, the state’s Division of Taxation has taken to social media to remind residents that a new round of senior-freeze reimbursements has already started going out in New Jersey, and that program applications are being accepted through Nov. 1.

In all, more than 150,000 seniors and homeowners with disabilities are enrolled in the program, which sends out reimbursements that can easily top $1,000 to those who meet income and residency requirements.

Budget documents indicate the state is expecting another nearly 30,000 to become newly eligible for senior freeze this year.

A recent focus on property-tax relief initiatives by Murphy and majority Democratic lawmakers, all running for reelection in November, comes as the average New Jersey property-tax bill rose above $9,000 for the first time ever last year, to a record-high of $9,112, according to data from the state Department of Community Affairs.

Moreover, the average property-tax bill has risen by nearly $350 since Murphy took office in 2018.

The senior-freeze program, officially called Property Tax Reimbursement, provides the budget-funded reimbursement checks to offset increases in property taxes once a homeowner becomes eligible for the program in what’s known as their “base year.”

To qualify for the program, which started in 1997, homeowners must be at least 65 years old or have a disability, and be at least a 10-year resident of the state. They also must be the owners of their residence for three years, be up to date on their property taxes, and have incomes that fall within the program’s limits for the last two years.

Under allocations for the program funded in recent budgets, including in the FY2022 spending plan, the income limits for 2020 and 2019 were set at $92,969 and $91,505, respectively.

In all, the program’s income limits have been allowed to increase by more than 30% since 2017. That was the last year that lawmakers used language written into the state budget to hold the limit at $70,000, with no cost-of-living adjustments allowed, as a cost-saving measure.

Revising the program’s funding policy is one of many changes to state-funded property-tax relief programs made in recent years by Murphy and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature.

What changes were made?

Those changes include a decision made earlier this year to halt the long-standing practice of using property-tax bills from over a decade ago as the baseline for assessing the current benefits provided through the popular Homestead property-tax relief program.

That policy change is expected to boost the average Homestead relief benefit by at least $130, according to Murphy and legislative leaders.

Meanwhile, funding for a state income-tax deduction for local property-tax bills was also boosted in the latest state budget after Murphy and lawmakers increased the cap on the annual amount that can be deducted from $10,000 to $15,000, in 2018.

And for the senior-freeze program, Treasury officials have estimated the FY2022 budget will fund reimbursements averaging $1,404 for 152,935 senior and disabled homeowners already eligible for the program. Another 27,580 are expected to become newly eligible and receive reimbursements averaging $223, according to budget documents.

During a lengthy budget-signing ceremony in late June, Murphy said policies funded in the state’s new spending plan would help “seniors remain in their communities long into their golden years.”

For more information about the senior-freeze program, visit: https://nj.gov/treasury/taxation/ptr/index.shtml. For more information about applying for a reimbursement, visit: https://nj.gov/treasury/taxation/ptr/claim.shtml.

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