2017-05-18 / Front Page

Council OKs tax benefits for local vets

New credits will more than double former exemptions

Alabama’s 1985 chart-topper “Forty Hour Week” was a salute to America’s blue-collar workforce, highlighting autoworkers, carpenters, firefighters and farmers. In the song, however, there was a profession missing.

“Veterans weren’t in there,” Daniel Ustick told the town councilors at their meeting Monday night. “But you people are doing your parts. I wanted to show my appreciation and respect. Thank you very much.”

Ustick, a Vietnam vet who lives on West Reach Drive, is a member of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9447. He was part of the contingency that pressed the town to increase tax breaks for veterans. Ustick also was among the handful of vets that attended Monday’s meeting to thank the councilors.

The council unanimously voted 3-0 to change the exemptions to tax credits ranging from $150 to $500. Councilors Gene Mihaly and Mike White, who both served in the armed forces, recused themselves from the vote.

“It’s important that we recognize your service,” President Kristine Trocki said. “It’s the very least we can do.”

The issue was raised last August by Court Street resident Jon Fredette, a retired chief petty officer who wrote a letter outlining the feeble exemptions. Because the tax credits were dwarfed by nearly every city and town in Rhode Island, Town Administrator Andy Nota suggested increasing them.

According to a report from tax assessor Ken Gray, there are five tax breaks available in Rhode Island. The first credit is for discharged veterans or their widows. Before Monday’s vote, the town offered a $5,000 exemption that could be applied to either car taxes or property bills, saving vets between $43 and $72 annually. With 386 eligible residents, this cost the town $17,000 during the 2016- 17 fiscal year.

The councilors, however, changed the exemption to a $150 tax credit, nearly doubling the return. The change will cost $58,000 in 2017-18.

The second exemption, which was an additional $2,000 credit to veterans who are 100 percent disabled from their service, has been changed to a $300 tax credit.

Before the change, the 11 disabled vets each saved between $17 and $29 on their tax bills, costing the town about $200 this year. In the upcoming budget, the total will be $3,300 for disabled veterans.

There are three other exemptions for veterans and their families, Gray said, although nobody in town qualifies. Gold Star parents, whose children have died in combat, were entitled to a $5,000 exemption. Also, disabled veterans who require adapted housing qualified for a $10,000 exemption. Those have been changed to $300 and $500 tax credits, respectively.

The fifth tax credit, which didn’t exist in Jamestown before Monday, is $500 for former prisoners of war.

Gray said the former exemption system wasn’t only insufficient, but unfair. “Everybody gets the same thing now,” he said. “A credit is easier to see, easier to understand and easier to budget for.”

Gray said there also is a sixth tax break, although it is federally mandated. All active duty soldiers and sailors get a 100 percent exemption from their motor vehicle taxes. This cost the town $10,509. Although the policy is not changing, the total cost will depend on the value of those residents’ vehicles.

The councilors also agreed to revisit the discussion each budget season so the town doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

“This is a great place to start,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said. “What we had before was woefully inadequate.”

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