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Should NJ expand its veterans property tax break? Voters will decide Tuesday

U.S. Air Force Capt Robert Espy, Kadena voting officer, and Marine Warrant Officer John Squares, Marine Core Base assistant voting officer, host a joint information booth on Oct. 21,2014, inside the Kadena Exchange, Okinawa, Japan. (Airman 1st Class Stephen G. Eigel/U.S. Air Force)

Voters across New Jersey will decide Tuesday whether to extend a $250 property tax break to veterans living in nursing homes or assisted living communities.

An amendment to change the state constitution to extend the tax deduction to those veterans is the lone state question on the general election ballot.

Currently veterans who served in times of war, armed conflict or emergency are eligible for the tax break on their homes or other property. But those eligible vets who live in so-called continuing care retirement communities do not qualify, even though many of them are required to pay fees to the retirement community to help cover the facility’s property taxes.

Lawmakers propose giving the $250 property tax benefit to the retirement community and then requiring them to pass on the value of it to the resident veteran or surviving spouse. However, because the deduction is written into the state constitution, the voters’ approval is needed to amend the constitution.

The proposed change has received little publicity but is being pushed by supporters as a measure of fairness for many veterans who have been denied or lost the benefit because they moved into a retirement community.

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Only about a third of the close to 10,000 residents living in the continuing-care communities are believed to be veterans. Extending the deduction is expected to cost the state between $350,000 and $550,000 a year, according to a fiscal estimate by the Office of Legislative Services.

“This deduction currently only applies to homeowners, and many of our elderly veterans live in retirement communities, where they don’t own their living space but nonetheless have extensive housing expenses,” Sen. Vin Gopal, D-11 of Long Branch, the Senate sponsor of the amendment, said earlier this summer after the Senate approved putting the amendment on the election ballot.

“This legislation is a simple and commonsense extension to make the tax deduction apply to all veterans equally. It’s the right thing to do,” the senator added.

Gopal has credited Tinton Council President Gary Baldwin with educating him and other lawmakers about the issue. A retired Air Force veteran, Baldwin discovered he was no longer eligible for the deduction after he first moved into his retirement community in 2001.

Baldwin went on to become the leading voice for extending the tax break to veterans living in continuing care communities like his.

“It is an earned right,” Baldwin told the NJTV News in a segment that aired earlier this week.

The Organization of Residents Associations of New Jersey has also organized support for the amendment’s approval.

In addition to the state ballot question, voters in Beverly, Eastampton and Medford Lakes will be asked to weigh in on local referendums.

The Beverly referendum seeks voters’ approval to reduce the number of elected members of the local school board from seven to five members.

The Eastampton question asks voters to approve extending the town’s local open space tax for another 20 years. The tax is now 5 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which amounts to about $111 on the tax bill of a home assessed at the township average of $222,942.

Medford Lakes question is a non-binding referendum seeking to gauge voters’ support for moving the town’s nonpartisan election from the traditional May date to the same day as the November general election. The election would remain nonpartisan and candidates running for Medford Lakes offices would be offset from the other races.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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© 2019 Burlington County Times