Elizabeth Ruediger: Town officials walk a fine line on property tax credits

To the editor:

It is a fine line that town administrators must maintain when it comes to property tax credits and exemptions. It is our responsibility to make credits and exemptions available to those who truly qualify and demonstrate need for them. City councils and select boards must abide by the warrant articles passed at town meetings and elections. We are also beholden to the state Department of Revenue Administration to properly implement the rules and regulations set forth to guide municipalities in the provision of these “tax breaks” for certain segments of the community — tax breaks that are ultimately absorbed by the applicant’s friends and neighbors, who make up the difference and fill the void in revenue created by the credit and/or exemption.

New Hampshire recently opened the veteran’s tax credit to members of our military who not only have been fully active and have served in conflicts, but also to those who are reservists serving in a multitude of support capacities. Most embrace this widening of the credit eligibility, but there are some “real” veterans who are not accepting of extending this credit to capture those who have made the commitment to their country but are not considered among the hardcore “elite.” The primary requirement for eligibility is an “honorable” discharge. There is no wiggle room on this designation. To capture additional applicants, adjustments must be made to the amount of the credit to allow for more to qualify and yet not create a burden to the existing taxpayers by an increase in the tax rate. Those who have been deemed 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs qualify for an additional tax credit that is again paid by the remaining local taxpayers (you and me).

We had a situation where the total disability tax credit was increased from $700 to $2,000 without any input from the local taxpayers through approval at town meeting. It was immediately reversed by the DRA, and rightly so. How would the taxpayers feel to know that more money was being taken from their pockets and funneled to one applicant without their knowledge or consent? As the saying goes: There is no honor among thieves.

Finally, exemptions based on financial status are also paid by the remaining local taxpayers. This March, I hope to propose an increase in the income limits to capture more individuals, but lower the exemption amount to offset the increase in available applicants. This needs to be done to create a cost of living increase and keep the most vulnerable citizens from falling through the cracks. Those who have benefited and do not financially qualify due to excessive income should be removed to allow that exemption to be applied to those who truly need it. This is not an entitlement program, but a tax assistance program for those with viable and verifiable need. It is the community’s most vulnerable who should benefit from these credits and exemptions and the taxpayers who are gracious enough to assist in filling the void appreciate fair application of the benefit process.

Elizabeth Ruediger