Working Off Your Property Taxes?

One N.Y. town is allowing seniors to work to pay off some property taxes.

Dec. 27, 2007— -- Judy Dorros gazed out the picture window in the rear of the dining room of her split-level home in Greenburgh, N.Y. Beyond the wooden deck and table are the towering trunks of trees stripped of their leaves by winter, scruffy grass and dark slabs of rock. Beyond the chain-linked fence is a wooded field as far as you can see.

"It's quiet," Dorros said. "It's peaceful. I just love it."

Dorros, a 73-year-old widow, has lived in this home since 1963. She has no plans to ever leave. But she worries about ever-increasing property taxes, now totaling about $17,000 a year.

"It's very exorbitant," she said, of her property tax burden. That may be an understatement. New York's Westchester County has the third highest property tax rate in the country. For people on a fixed income, such as Dorros, taxes gnaw away at their financial resources and security.

So, when Dorros heard about a proposal to allow seniors in her town to work off a portion of their property taxes, she was immediately interested.

The plan would allow Greenburgh residents over the age of 60 to earn a tax credit of up to $1,000 a year by working for the town. It could be tutoring schoolchildren, or working in a park in the summer. A retired lawyer could do legal work for the town. A former accountant could help town administrators with finance management.

Dorros, a retired schoolteacher, said, "I would love to work with some kid that everyone else has given up on. That's what I would like to do."

The plan is being promoted by Greenburgh town supervisor Paul Feiner. It would require the approval of county officials and the state legislature, to be enacted.

Feiner said the tax breaks could help the town retain older residents who might otherwise move to less expensive locales.

"There are many seniors that are having difficulties paying their property taxes, people [who] are on fixed incomes," he said. "This program could help them stay in the community. The town benefits, because we're able to take advantage of the considerable talents of senior citizens."

Several communities in the U.S. already have similar plans. The first one was Boulder County, Colo., which began its work-for-tax-credit program in 1986. Today, nearly 100 seniors there perform such jobs as gathering climate data, landscaping, and manning the information booth at the local courthouse. There is a waiting list to fill the available positions.

Dorros said the opportunity to stay active and useful was even more important to her than the potential tax savings.

"There's a lot of good talent going to waste," she said. "You know, we're not dead. We're just retired."