The Derry Town Council has approved a moderate increase in the Veterans Tax Credit, with a plan to phase in funding until veterans receive the same tax break as surrounding towns offer.
The original proposal by Councilor Al Dimmock to raise the veterans’ credit from $300 to $400 was modified to $350 at the May 20 Town Council meeting. While Dimmock and several veterans were unsatisfied with the result, other Councilors said it was better than nothing and that they intended to phase in the remaining amount.
By state law, each town in New Hampshire can allow veterans a property tax break of up to $500. According to a memo by Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs, the current Veterans Credit was approved at $300 in 2009. Derry’s disabled veterans receive an additional $2,000 credit, the maximum allowed by state law.
Childs wrote that an increase of $100 would increase the amount to be raised by taxation by $97,700, based on the 977 veterans currently receiving the tax break. The amount if approved would add 4 cents to the tax rate, raising the estimated tax rate from $10.22 per $1,000 to $10.26 per $1,000 (See related story page 1).
An increase of $50 would raise the estimated tax rate to $10.24 per $1,000.
In both the public forum and public hearing portions of the meeting, emotions ran high.
Resident Kelly Martin said she had researched veterans’ tax credits in New Hampshire. “In Rockingham County, 89 percent of the municipalities gave a higher tax credit than Derry,” she told the Council. “Of those, 86 percent offered $500 per year, the maximum allowed by the state.” Referencing recent news stories, Martin said, “It’s disgraceful the manner in which this country treats its veterans.”
While the country is “going to hell,” Martin said the reason citizens were able to come together in a forum such as the Town Council meeting was because of veterans.
“If you have the money to support two children’s libraries, you should have the mind-set to bring Derry up to the $500 level,” Martin said.
Resident Tony Bruno, a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, said he has a friend who earned two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star. “He’s barely making it,” Bruno told the group. “Maybe I don’t need this, but there are so many who do.”
Bruno continued, “A veteran thinks about the good times. They don’t discuss the bad times.”
He thanked the board for putting the item on the agenda and was philosophical about the result, saying, “If we get it, we get it. If we don’t, we don’t.”
In the Council discussion, Councilor Tom Cardon admitted he was “having a hard time with this.
“I am deeply grateful to the veterans,” Cardon said, adding, “But we’ve worked really hard to get the tax rate down. I don’t want to shift the burden from one group of people to another group of people.”
Councilor David Fischer said, “I can’t agree more with the statements made in support of this.” Fischer reiterated his concerns about the budget process, and said, “It’s important to have goals for the Town Council to address, and a long-range plan.”
Fischer said he agreed with Cardon on the “time and energy” it took to whittle down the budget and reduce the tax rate.
“I propose we stick with the budget and raise the tax credit in an incremental way over four years,” Fischer said. “We could add $50 in 2016, $50 in 2017, $50 in 2018 and $50 in 2019, bringing it up to the full $500 allowed by law.”
Councilor Michael Fairbanks said he was in favor of the full $400 proposed by Dimmock.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon suggested a compromise on the compromise, beginning the increments of $50 in the 2015 budget. “Let’s start it this year and not kick it down the road,” he said.
Dimmock countered, “We have waited too long to do this. Last Memorial Day I promised the veterans I would increase the tax credit.”
Regarding the other Councilors he said, “I am ashamed to be sitting here with these people.”
Dimmock said if the credit wasn’t passed for the full $400, he would walk out of the meeting. “I will not have the wherewithal to withhold my contempt,” he said.
“It is better to take a gradual approach,” Cardon said.
Bourdon told Dimmock, “I see where you’re coming from. It’s not fair for us to take a stand and for them to leave empty-handed.”
Regarding the phased-in approach, Dimmock said none of the Councilors could guarantee they would be voted back in, and a future Council might eliminate the phased-in credit.
“You insult them by offering $50 instead of $100,” Dimmock told his colleagues.
Chairman Mark Osborne said he has wrestled with the proposal. He was pleased that the Council had reduced the budget from Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau’s original level-funded budget, noting, “Economic development is not going to happen until taxes go down.”
He also said he didn’t want to appear to be “pandering to a special interest group.” But he agreed on the importance of recognizing veterans, and said he would support Fischer’s proposed amendment to begin the increase of the tax credit with $50.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores recused herself from the vote, noting that she was the widow of a veteran and would profit if the proposal passed.
The Council voted on the amendment, with Cardon, Fischer, Osborne and Bourdon in the affirmative and Fairbanks and Dimmock voting no. Katsakiores recused herself.
Dimmock then walked out of the meeting. He stopped to speak to someone on the way out, and Osborne wielded the gavel and said, “We will be in order.” Dimmock returned to his seat on the platform.
The motion to increase the veterans tax credit to $350 passed, 5-1, with Dimmock the dissenting vote and Katsakiores abstaining.