2006-07-13 / News

Council to hold hearing on tax exemption for the disabled

By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council will conduct a public hearing Monday, July 24, on a tax exemption for disabled people that was requested by a deaf person wanting to be treated "as equally" as a blind person.

Acting on the request last summer, the councilors decided the exemption should be extended not only to the deaf, but also to all totally disabled people. Also to be fair and not too intrusive, the councilors said they wanted to make eligibility judgments on the basis of Social Security status rather than setting up medical standards themselves.

Social Security does not automatically define deaf people as totally disabled.

The council has received authorization to provide the exemption from the state General Assembly, and has assigned Associate Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks to draft an appropriate ordinance.

Parks has submitted a nearly 1,000-word proposal that provides for a maximum $25,000 exemption on real estate, representing an actual tax savings of not quite $237.25 this year. To get that benefit, the person must be under age 65 and own the property. But the person cannot use the property to produce income. The applicant also cannot have income of more than $25,000, and that cannot be a party of a double exemption even if both parties are totally disabled. There other requirements as well.

The council will be considering the proposal as part of its response to give equal consideration to deaf people.

The equal treatment was requested by Gemma Guinguing of Intrepid Lane, the immediate past Miss Deaf Rhode Island. She owns no real estate and therefore would not be eligible for any exemption.

She asked the councilors to give the same tax exemption to deaf residents that is provided to blind people, who are given $15,000 exemptions based on medical diagnosis and not according to income standards.

Guinguing wrote that she is not against the extension according to disability but questions the criteria pertaining to income and Social Security standards. "Please do not make my simple request for fairness (parity with the blind) more complicated," she wrote.

The town gives nine categories of tax exemptions, ranging from $2,000 to $50,000, for veterans, disabled veterans, widows of veterans, Gold Star parents, elderly, fire and ambulance workers and the visually impaired. Each $1,000 of exemption this year saves the taxpayer $9.49, for an apparent maximum exemption savings of $474.50.

Several factors effect the elderly exemption, so the maximum is not readily apparent. The exemption for visually impaired persons is $15,000, according to the tax assessor's office. That results in a $147.75 tax break. There currently is no category for people who are deaf. The new ordinance does not discontinue the exemption for the blind. It was not clear if blind people could also be eligible for the new exemption for disabled people. Guinguing said that blind people

and other existing groups who are eligible for exemptions do not have criteria about their work or income. Another factor is that some exemptions affect only real estate; and other exemptions may be applied to motor vehicles or other taxed items. Some exemptions allow double exemptions on a single property if two eligible parties co-own it.

The councilors noted in their discussions last year that their goal of a fair, all-inclusive ordinance for those with disabilities reflects options provided now by law that were not available or considered when the existing exemptions were provided.

Generally, veteran-related exemptions are based on military service without regard to income, and elderly exemptions are tied to property values and income, as well as age. The newest exemption, for town rescue and ambulance workers, is related to the amount of volunteer service, and a maximum is set on the property value exempted. This will also be covered by a new ordinance, which the council is expected to adopt after the hearing.

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