Peninsula seniors scramble after tax program cut 

Dozens of senior citizens in San Mateo County have found themselves in fiscal dire straits after a state program was axed.

About 94 senior citizens in San Mateo County were enrolled in a state-funded program that allowed elderly people on fixed incomes to defer paying their property taxes indefinitely. The program, which functioned similarly to a reverse mortgage, would put a lien on the house, and the outstanding property taxes would be paid once the house was sold.

The $12 million program was killed as part of 2009 budget cuts, but many seniors are only now discovering they’re no longer enrolled, after receiving fines for not paying their property taxes on time.

County Deputy Tax Collector-treasurer Sandie Arnott said many of the seniors may face losing their homes because they hadn’t budgeted for the tax.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking because a lot of the people are on fixed income, they’re disabled, sometimes they’re blind, and now they’ve been hit by this,” Arnott said. “It seems like every single cut has been hitting the people who can least afford it.”

Arnott and state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, highlighted the impact of ending this program — just one of many sacrificed in the fight to balance the state’s budget — at a campaign event at Lincoln Park Senior Center.

Arnott, who is running for tax collector-treasurer in San Mateo County, said she would like to see the county reinstate the program out of its own budget — a move that would require state legislative changes. Ma said she would support the changes.

Senior advocate Marian Mann, an outreach coordinator at Lincoln Park Senior Center, said that if the county does start addressing the problem, it will likely come too late for some seniors. She said she has already seen many seniors on fixed incomes get in “deep trouble” with their houses because they couldn’t make their monthly payment, and the prospect of owing thousands more a year in property taxes will kick many more out of their homes.

“These seniors, they paid their dues, they did their best to improve their community,” Mann said. “But now they’re being short-changed.”

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