Bill Would Reimburse Towns For Disabled Vets

Photo by Jason Allentoff

  BERKELEY – If a veteran is 100% disabled, they are not required to pay property taxes, per New Jersey law. For most towns, this is a drop in the bucket. But for towns with a lot of senior developments, the cost is much more.

  Berkeley’s leaders have long supported this law, even though it impacts them more than other municipalities. It’s because other property owners in town have to make up the difference. Furthermore, the town is the collecting entity for both school districts, the county, and other taxes. In other words, the town has to collect more from all other property owners to make up for the exempt veteran-owned properties.

  During the most recent meeting, there were five homes that had property taxes cancelled due to either being owned by a 100% disabled veteran or the widow of one. Every meeting usually has one or more added to the list.

  “I agree with this 100% but that money has to come from somewhere,” Mayor John Bacchione said. He and members of the Township Council have no problem with providing veterans this service, but they want the town to be made whole.

  This is why Berkeley officials have supported bills that would require the state to reimburse the towns for this state law.

  The newest version of the bill, S-2559 and A-3705 was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee in February. Senator Carmen Amato and Assemblymen Brian Rumpf and Gregory Myhre were the authors of the bill.

  When Amato was mayor, he and the governing body supported the bill when it was introduced by his predecessor, then-Senator Christopher Connors, and Assembly members Rumpf and DiAnne Gove.

  In 2020, Berkeley quantified the amount of property taxes that they forgive. They had 279 properties that were exempt from taxation due to them being owned by a 100 percent disabled veteran. If you add the property values of all of these homes together, it amounts to $54,825,500.

  Multiplying this by the tax rate at the time, 2.167, it totaled $1,188,068.59. This means that there is $1,188,068.59 that has to be raised by other residents. This is the amount that the town would want back from the state if the bill is made into a law.

Public Records Access

  Another bill that the Township Council supported is S-2930/A-4045 that would amend the Open Public Records Act. This is the law that allows people to request government documents.

  The following changes would be made, if it were to pass:

  • modifies the conditions under which a records custodian has to respond to a request for records, allowing the custodian discretion to deny duplicative or anonymous requests;
  • encourages and allocates funds to assist public agencies in moving documents online, making these records searchable via an online database, to the extent feasible;
  • creates a uniform and comprehensive definition of “personal identifying information” which, in many cases, is redacted by the records custodian;
  • establishes specific timelines for responses to records requests occurring under various circumstances, such as when a record may be unavailable or in storage, and adds additional specificity and clarity to the items and information which are exempt from public access;
  • prohibits records requests made by or for data brokers, who take the information they gather and use it for a commercial purpose;
  • transfers the responsibility for violations from the custodian to the public agency, and allows, in limited circumstances, for the courts to issue a protective order to shield the agency from harassment;
  • alters the composition of the Government Records Council, adding more public members, establishing staggered five year terms and annual salaries, and ensuring partisan balance; and
  • establishes a Police Record Access Improvement Task Force to investigate the existing statutes governing public access to police records and develop recommendations for necessary changes to the law.

  An amendment to this bill will require records custodians to assist requestors who are unable to find the record on the public website after the custodian has provided the initially required directions. The requestor has seven days after the custodian provides the initial directions to request further assistance. After the request is received by the custodian, the custodian has seven days to provide the requested assistance;

  Another change requires notification to the Superior Court or the Government Records Council of the timely production of records in order for the matter to be dismissed without prejudice and to entitle a requestor to a reasonable attorney’s fee; and ensure partisan balance amongst the public members appointed to the Government Records Council.