NORTH SMITHFIELD – Town officials in North Smithfield are looking to increase the amount of the tax exemption for veterans after a comparison with nearby communities revealed North Smithfield offers far less than some other municipalities.
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski told members of the Town Council on Monday he compared North Smithfield’s veteran exemption with those offered by seven nearby communities. Other communities, he said, offered an average of a $196 annual tax credit to veterans. North Smithfield, by contrast, offers $45.50.
“It’s atrocious. It’s a travesty,” he said.
The differences were also clear in other categories protected by the veteran exemption. Other communities offer 100 percent disabled veterans a $357.30 tax credit on average, while North Smithfield offers $91. For Gold Star parents, the credit averages $162.92 in other communities and $136.50 in North Smithfield.
In some cases, the tax exemption is calculated based on the assessment of the property value. Tax Assessor Jennifer St. George explained that for the prisoner of war exemption, North Smithfield offers $15,000 off the individual’s property assessment. With the current tax rates, that typically averages out to about a $200 tax credit, she said. In Burrillville, a prisoner of war exemption applied to the same property would get a veteran about $900 off their taxes.
The seven communities used for the comparison were Woonsocket, Lincoln, Smithfield, Burrillville, Cumberland, Foster and Glocester.
Zwolenski said he plans to ask the Budget Committee to review the veteran tax exemption as well as those offered to senior citizens.
“If you look at what the town of North Smithfield recognizes for our veterans, it’s very inadequate. Budget season’s coming up now, it’s the ideal time to look at this,” he said.
According to St. George 480 veterans are currently signed up for the town’s tax exemption. In order to qualify, a veteran must submit paperwork verifying their military discharge.
“Just know they most likely will start to come in once they hear about it, too. So there’s that in effect of the budget, but we don’t have that many veterans,” she said.
Farrell McMillan, commander of VFW Post 6342, told councilors he fully supports expanding the tax exemption. The number of veterans in North Smithfield, he said, is dwindling, with most of them serving in the Korean or Vietnam Wars.
“It’s nice to be recognized other than you get a free cup of coffee on Veterans Day at Dunkin’ Donuts or something,” he said.
Zwolenski said a little bit of extra financial support could help a veteran stay in their home.
“A $100, $200 improvement could be something that could maybe help them turn the thermostat up from 66 to 67 this winter—excuse me, after the next budget cycle,” he said.
“We don’t just have to come to parity with the other communities,” he added. “Maybe we lead the way for once.”
Town councilors agreed, with Council President John Beauregard commending Zwolenski for bringing the matter forward.
“I just want to commend you for figuring this out and coming forward with it because there’s not a lot of these more important than this,” he said.
While everyone agreed on the merits of the proposal, at least one resident disagreed on where the idea originated. Zwolenski told councilors he decided to review the veteran tax exemption after his first budget cycle as town administrator. However, in an email to The Breeze, Douglas Osier Jr., a former town councilor who ran against Zwolenski for town administrator last year, pointed out a review of the tax exemption goes back to at least 2019, when it was included as part of a budget study proposal co-sponsored by the two councilors.
Zwolenski told The Breeze on Tuesday this particular proposal did not come out of the budget study but out of his experience working as town administrator.
“It didn’t happen during his tenure and it didn’t happen during the past year. It happened under this administration that brings it forward to the council for consideration,” he said.