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Work-off program a win-win deal; Seniors earn a tax break.

Byline: Bonnie Adams

MILLBURY - It's no secret that in this time of economic hardship, higher taxes seem inevitable as municipalities struggle to pay bills. For some taxpayers, it can be a manageable issue. For some senior citizens, those increases, combined with the rising costs of everyday life, can be a tremendous burden.

But thanks to one program that many Massachusetts communities have adopted - the Senior Work-Off Abatement program - many eligible elders are getting some needed assistance with their bills while providing their communities with some important services.

The premise of this program is that seniors who are 60 and older and who meet fiscal guidelines can work for their town doing a number of jobs. In return, they can then receive a tax abatement or reduction on their real estate tax bills.

In Millbury, 19 senior citizens are currently working in the town's program.

One senior who has taken advantage of this program is Maryanne Saratz, who works four hours a week at the Senior Center. Her duties include answering phones, booking rides, helping out with special activities and "whatever they need me to do."

"I love it," she said of her work there. "It's a wonderful opportunity and I really like working with the people there."

"We have a wonderful group of diversified, talented seniors working here in Millbury," Judy O'Connor, the town's Council on Aging director, said. "We have people working here at the Senior Center, as well as the library, transfer station and in the town offices. They do a lot of administrative things, such as help with the census, stuff municipal tax bills and general office tasks. At the transfer station they might help sort things there. We've even had people mow the lawns."

"It's a great way to take someone with a specific background in something like accounting or mechanics and have them use their skills somewhere here in town," she added.

According to Mrs. O'Connor the seniors are allowed to work up to 200 hours in a calendar year. The participants then receive a tax abatement or reduction on their real estate tax bill as payment, which cannot exceed $1,500 in a calendar year.

When this idea was first introduced three years ago at town meeting, some residents, as well as town officials, were a bit hesitant, she said.

But now, she added, "the department heads love it. And the seniors have been very excited about it, too."

It is important to note, she said, that the seniors are not taking the place of any town personnel. Rather, they are "extra helping hands" for many of the departments that cannot hire additional staff in this time of fiscal strain.

The seniors have made a definite positive impact, she said, "by helping everyone do a better job" in the different departments.

"A person has to be willing to do what is available in the town," she said. "But we really try to match talent up with need as much as possible."

Currently, Mrs. O'Connor said, there are 2,450 seniors in Millbury, approximately 22 percent of the population. And although only 19 of them currently work in this program, there is still opportunity for more to join.

Anyone who would like more information may call Mrs. O'Connor at the Senior Center at (508) 865-9154.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE

CUTLINE: Maryanne Saratz works at the Senior Center in exhange for a property-tax abatement.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 12, 2009
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