Published on: October 26, 2017

see article text copied below from the following source: Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A Saskatchewan seniors’ advocacy group says the provincial government’s decision to make good on a campaign promise by allowing some seniors to defer the education portion of their property taxes is “almost an embarrassment.”

The deferral won’t come close to making up for new and increased costs for seniors living on fixed incomes handed down in the 2017-18 provincial budget, said Saskatchewan Seniors Association Inc. board member Mike Kaminski.

“Seniors living on fixed incomes are having extreme difficulty and a lot of that difficulty is because of the government’s budgets in the last three years,” said Kaminski, who also serves on the executive of the National Pensioners Federation.

The program will be introduced “in the coming months” and be available to seniors with an income below $70,000, according to the throne speech Lieutenant-governor Vaughn Schofield read in the legislature on Wednesday.

“Effectively, seniors, if they choose, at $70,000 income or less can defer the payment of the property taxes until one day that property is sold,” Premier Brad Wall told reporters on the first day of his final legislative session.

Saskatoon Council on Aging Executive Director June Gawdun said she is of two minds about the deferral. While it may allow seniors to “age in place” for longer, it could slap them with a large tax bill when they sell the home and move, for example, to a care facility, she said.

Government spokeswoman Kathy Young said in an email that to be eligible seniors must own at least 25 per cent equity in their home and maintain adequate fire insurance, and can choose each year whether to defer the education portion of their property taxes.

“There is no minimum limit as to how much seniors can choose to defer. Seniors can also choose to repay all of part of the total amount they have deferred at any time, without penalty,” Young said in the email.

The government’s 2017-18 budget reduced the education property tax mill rate across the province. For residential properties, the rate dropped to 4.12 from 5.03, with revenues forecast to increase to $360 million due to higher property value assessments.

The mill rate reflects how much a homeowner pays for each $1,000 of their home’s assessed value. Residential property owners pay the education portion of their taxes on 80 per cent of that value, up from the 2013 rate of 70 per cent.

Kaminski said other measures handed down in the budget, including provincial sales tax on medical, health and property insurance, an increase in long-term care home fees and the elimination of chiropractic and podiatry services, make the deferral difficult to stomach for seniors.

“This government’s approach to seniors living on fixed income is that there has been little or no consultation or collaboration with most of the seniors’ organizations,” he said. “I hate to say it, but I would say (the government is) totally out of touch.”

The City of Saskatoon also has a seniors’ property tax deferral program, which was in 2014 expanded to give seniors four options to defer up to $1,200 in municipal and library taxes each year.

The basic idea underpinning tax deferral programs is to allow seniors to maintain equity and stay in their homes longer.