In interviews with more than 20 municipal tax assessors in several New Jersey counties, these officials were generally reluctant to talk about property tax deductions for veterans and senior citizens. And none indicated their towns "advertised" the availability of these tax deductions to the public — even though the state reimburses them for the $250 deduction if a veteran or senior citizen qualifies.
One township official, when asked for something in writing about the deductions, said, "We can't talk about that." The more I thought about that, the more I wondered, "Why couldn't she talk about that?"
I don't know the answer to that, but the pattern in one township after another seemed to indicate that there was more going on than I could discern. When I asked why the townships didn't more actively inform the public about the property tax deductions, I was told, "We have no budget for that," "The onus is on the veteran or senior to get the information," "We don't do that," and "Flyers sometimes go out with the tax bills, but nothing from my office. Don't have time."
Mind you, this is a state law that is now 50 years old and every citizen of New Jersey has a right to this annual $250 property tax deduction if they qualify. And how much time or budget is required to call or send a press release to the local newspaper spelling out the law and requirements to receive the deduction? I do know the answer to that question. Damn little!
Recently I heard something that may put this all into perspective. The state has to approve the budget of every county and municipality in New Jersey. And, as reported recently in "State of the State(s)," New Jersey is in no position to take on more debt as its financial condition is not in good shape.
Does this mean that the state, with its power to approve or disapprove their budget, is pressuring the municipalities not to inform its residents about the property tax deductions? I don't know the answer to that question, but it would be interesting to find out.
In all fairness, it should be pointed out that a number of area municipalities do provide information on the law on their websites. These include Hamilton, Hopewell and Galloway Townships, Willingboro and Trenton, and some even make the tax deduction applications available online. Others that make veteran and senior citizen applications available online include Princeton, Medford Lakes, Evesham and Cherry Hill.
Atlantic City's website does not include information on property tax deductions for veterans and seniors, but it does discuss a $500 tax credit under the heading "Municipal Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief." Unfortunately, that tax credit was never approved, according to the city's tax assessor.
Of the 16 municipalities in Cape May County, only Middle Township and Stone Harbor's websites provide information on the law pertaining to property tax deductions, and Middle Township now has applications for the deductions online. Stone Harbor has a link to the state's website for applications, but for some unfathomable reason it provides property tax deduction information for seniors under the heading "Disaster Relief Data Collection Worksheet."
Avalon and North Wildwood provide information on property tax deductions for veterans, but not for senior citizens.
In Cumberland County, Upper Deerfield Township makes both property tax deduction information and applications available on its website. The City of Vineland and Commercial and Fairfield Townships provide brief information on property tax deductions and Commercial has applications for veterans and seniors online. The other municipalities in Cumberland County provide no property tax deduction information or applications on their websites. That includes the City of Millville, which has the same tax assessor as Upper Deerfield Township, which provides everything.
Municipal websites rarely provide property tax deduction information for veterans or senior citizens on their "home" page. If that information is available on the website, you usually have to go to "departments" and then to "tax assessor" or "tax collector" to find the information. And you have to know that the deductions exist before you go looking for them.
Veterans and senior citizens need all of the help they can get to make sure they receive the annual $250 property tax deduction to which they are entitled. Hunting through the state and/or municipal websites for information is not the answer for these folks, many of whom don't have a computer or even know that the property tax deductions exist and that they are eligible. That is especially true for the surviving spouses of veterans.
A mailing to residents or an article in local newspapers spelling out who is eligible and what is required, as well as a reminder the month before the applications are due for the following year, is the least we can do for these citizens.
For more details on the law, read Eligible for a Property Tax Deduction?
Beau Weisman, Editor