NORTH SMITHFIELD – Residents who qualify for tax relief due to their veteran status could see a major decrease in the amount they pay each year if an initiative brought forward this week by Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski gains traction.
Zwolenski discussed a review of the town’s exemptions for veterans with councilors this week, noting that the tax relief in surrounding communities is significantly higher.
“It’s atrocious,” Zwolenski said. “It’s a travesty. If you look at what the town of North Smithfield does to recognize our veterans, it’s very inadequate.”
A chart put together by Tax Assessor Jennifer St. George showed where the town stands compared to surrounding communities, noting that on average, veterans in northern Rhode Island receive exemptions amounting to a tax break of $196 a year.
In North Smithfield, the relief comes to $45.50.
Veterans who are 100 percent disabled get a tax break of around $350 in towns such as Burrillville, Lincoln and Cumberland, while those in North Smithfield receive $91 off.
And Burrillville’s POWs get around $900 in tax relief, according to St. George.
“We give $15,000 off the assessment, and with the tax rate, it comes to about $200 off their taxes,” St. George said.
Zwolenski said he noticed the issue earlier this year while working on his first budget as administrator.
“Sometimes a little financial help can help a veteran stay in their home,” Zwolenski said.
“We don’t just have to come to parity with the rest of the communities,” he added. “Maybe we lead the way for once. Why don’t we be the benchmark for other communities?”
Former VFW 6342 Commander Farrell McMillan thanked the administrator for the initial effort.
“Of course, I fully support any help for veterans,” McMillan said. “It’s nice to be recognized other than, ‘you get a free cup of coffee on Veteran’s Day.'”
“We’ve been here 75 years as the post,” McMillan said. “We are dwindling.”
St. George said that currently, 480 veterans in North Smithfield receive the exemption.
“We don’t have that many veterans,” the assessor said.
Councilor Paul Vadenais pointed out that more veterans may come forward if changes are ultimately approved.
“They need to know about these programs, because they need to apply for them,” Vadenais said.
St. George said that all the applicants need to qualify for the exemption is their license and discharge paperwork.
“We go off the state law,” she said.
Zwolenski said he wanted to make sure there was enthusiasm on the council’s part before bringing the issue to the Budget Committee.
“I’m kind of looking to give them a flat fee,” he later told NRI NOW, adding that he and St. George are also working on a comparison for seniors, and that exemption may also increase slightly.
“We’re already in a pretty good place with seniors,” Zwolenski said. “We’ll see.”
The issue will now go before town budgeters for a recommendation before officially appearing before the council for a vote, but a much larger exemption could be approved if Monday’s reception of the idea holds true. Zwolenski has tentatively proposed a flat $200 break annually for all veterans, with those that are disabled, POWs and the parents of Gold Star service members to receive $350.
“This is a great catch,” said Town Council President John Beauregard. “I just want to commend you on figuring this out and coming forward with it, because there’s not a lot of things more important than this.”
“I think it’s great that he’s doing this,” Beauregard said. “He’s got more support, 100 percent.”
“They’ve been under-thanked for too long,” said Councilor Claire O’Hara. “Let’s give them an over-thank.”