NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — An important notice for disabled veterans in one Hampton Roads City: You may have received a tax bill that is larger than it should have been.
Newport News city leaders say they are looking into an issue that is keeping disabled veterans from receiving tax reductions they have long been given. Since 1994, the city has offered up a lower tax rate for one vehicle owned and operated by a disabled veteran.
However, following voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment to the state consitution this past fall, a mistake may have been made within city hall.
In the case of 73-year-old Ronald Curtis, a disabled Vietnam veteran, his personal property tax bill “blindsided” him. He owed more than $400 for his car.
“I was blindsided, all of us were blindsided,” Curtis said.
In the past, anyone who the Department of Veterans’ Affairs ruled injured or ill because of service or had a preexisting condition exacerbated by their service was eligible for the reduction of $1 for every $100 of assessed value.
However now, a letter from the Commissioner of the Revenue communicated Curtis had to pay the full rate of $4.50 per every $100.
“I went over (to the Commissioner’s office) and they said ‘well, you’re not 100% disabled veteran,” Curtis said. “So I wasn’t eligible.”
In March, City Council made a change to the city code to reflect the change in the state constitution that allows all disabled veterans who have 100% service-connected, permanent and total disability to have one automobile or pickup truck completely exempt from personal property tax.
According to VA Medical Center paperwork — Curtis is only conidered 70% service-connected disabled.
Problem is, the new state law says nothing about taking away discounts for disabled residents across the board. The city’s change appeared to do just that.
“Never in the presentation of this amendment was it ever discussed that this would be taking away some of the benefits some of the veterans had,” said Councilman David Jenkins. “It was a replacement of the older language with the newer and there wasn’t the attention to detail enough I guess that would pick up on how this would affect other veterans that are still eligible for benefits.”
Mayor McKinley Price said the city attorney’s office was aware of the issue and is working on a solution.
“We’re going to get it fixed,” Price said.
It’s a fix Curtis says needs to happen sooner than later. He says he’s heard from a lot of upset friends
“A lot of them say they aren’t going to pay it. Because they don’t have any money,” Curtis said.
He wants to make sure people don’t blindly pay if they don’t have to. Tax bills are due June 5.
Disabled veterans can call the Personal Property Department at 757-926-8657 if they have an issue.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated what benefits all veterans received before the ratification of the Constitutional amendment. WAVY-TV regrets the error.