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Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Beginning in 2014, low-income senior citizens in Unity will be able to apply for a rebate to reimburse a portion of their property taxes.

With a 2-1 vote on Thursday, supervisors approved the ordinance for residents 65 and older who meet income and other eligibility requirements.

Supervisor Mike O'Barto led a committee that worked for the better part of a year to develop the ordinance, including hosting a series of meetings and sending a survey to township residents.

O'Barto and Supervisor John Mylant voted for the measure with Supervisor Jacob Blank dissenting.

Blank said he had three reasons for his vote, first explaining that he thinks the amount for each taxpayer will be minimal.

One estimate put the rebate at an average of $70 per senior citizen property owner. According to the 2010 Census, 4,097 people older than 65 live in Unity.

Blank said most senior citizens have older homes with lower tax assessments and instead would average closer to $30.

Secondly, the supervisor said although the township is showing a surplus, rising costs and changing state regulations could contribute to more needs in the future.

“We're not hurting, we're healthy, but I don't think we ought to be giving money back,” he said after the meeting.

Third, Blank said other measures in the past could have saved all taxpayers money, instead of a small portion.

He cited last year's decision against contracting a single trash hauler to leverage lower rates.

O'Barto said after the meeting he disagreed with Blank, even though they both had residents of the township in mind.

“I respect my colleague, Jake, and everybody had different opinions, but he cares about the senior citizens as much as I do,” he said.

Unity levies a 3.2-mill real estate tax to fund government operations and emergency services. One mill of property tax will not be reimbursed, because that revenue isallocated to Unity's fire departments and emergency services.

To be eligible for a rebate, the applicant must have one or more people in their household 65 or older, must be a full-time township resident, having lived in the township five years or more, be free of any tax delinquencies and meet low-income requirements set forth by Westmoreland County.

Solicitor Gary Falatovich said taxpayers who apply are eligible for only one rebate regardless of the number of properties they own.

The township cannot legally forgo or forgive taxes, so residents must pay the 2.2 mills, then submit an application to the township with an Oct. 15 deadline, he said.

O'Barto said while other property taxes paid to the county and the school district are still high, perhaps this break could inspire those entities to examine the burden on older residents.

“I've said before, you have to start somewhere,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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