Counties Partner with Retirees to Fill Vacancies, Relieve Tax Debt

Counties in Colorado and South Carolina are tackling two problems through one innovative approach: residential retirees fill local staff vacancies in exchange for property tax forgiveness.

Public service around the country is at an all-time low. State, county, and municipal governments from Maryland to California are struggling to hire and retain eligible works for a vast range of government positions. The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently reported on one innovative approach to county hiring that might be of interest to Maryland counties and is discussed below.

Two birds, one stone

In San Miguel County, Colorado and Dorchester, South Carolina, county governments have implemented creative programs to tackle their workforce shortage and solve unpaid property tax debt at the same time by putting resident retirees to work.

The Colorado example

San Miguel County, Colorado, allows senior citizens and disabled citizens to work a maximum of 100 hours per year for the county in order to offset what they owe in property taxes. The county canvases the its departments to assess staffing needs and vacancies, and then matches them with retired volunteers based on their interests. The volunteers’ “wages” are paid directly to the San Miguel County’s treasury and applied to the volunteers’ tax debt.

The property tax work-off program applies to a taxpayer’s primary residence. According to NACo:

For most of the last six years, residents over 60 or with disabilities have been eligible to work for the county in exchange for property tax forgiveness. At the same time, the program helps the county fill staffing holes that are challenging because of the area’s high cost of living.

The South Carolina model

Dorchester County, South Carolina also has a property tax work-off program, known as the The Senior Citizen Tax Work-Off Program. The program’s website reads:

The Senior Citizen Tax Work-Off Program permits senior citizens the opportunity to trade valuable time and needed skills for government services in exchange for compensation equal to their County property tax obligations.

Eligibility for the Dorchester program is open to residents 60 years old (or older), that own property (in their name) in Dorchester County and reside at said property. Participants are placed in various departments throughout the County and receive a check after they complete the requisite number of hours calculated. While the Colorado program applies wages directly to the participant’s tax bill, the South Carolina model requires participants to do so themselves.

The South Carolina program was paused for a few years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2023 program has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with 50 Dorchester County residents participating.