Veterans tax exemptions now dealt with by local assessors

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

There has been a slight change for disabled veterans seeking property tax exemptions in Berrien County.

Under Public Act 161, also known as the Disabled Veteran Exemption, any veteran who received an honorable discharge may be eligible for a property tax exemption on a primary residence if certain qualifications are met. The exemption may also apply to a veteran’s surviving spouse who has not remarried.

Lee Lull, director of the Berrien County Veterans Service office, said instead of coming through his office, veterans must now go through the process with the municipality they reside in.

After status and qualifications have been confirmed, each municipality’s assessor passes the veteran’s certificate of eligibility onto their local Board of Review.

Before this change, it was the Veterans Service office that handled the bulk of the work. Lull said when PA 161 was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Nov. 12, 2013, there was “unclear guidance” given to assessors, treasurers and county veteran service officers.

“At first, county veteran service officers offered to assist municipal assessors and treasurers in verifying eligibility,” Lull said. “In Berrien County, we modeled what Grand Traverse County did with regards to verifying eligibility.”

Berrien County followed suit after Lull learned that the rest of Michigan’s counties modified their procedures to show assessors and treasurers how to interpret the Summary of Benefits Letters.

Since providing the training to assessors in September of this year, Lull said “it has worked out fine.”

Instead of veterans having their Summary of Benefits Letters faxed from the VA to Veterans Services, they have had their letters faxed directly to the respective municipalities.

Lull told assessors if they do run into any problems, they can always contact Veterans Services for assistance. Most veterans and surviving spouses were informed of the change, but Lull said there are more out there that are unaware they are eligible.

Lull estimated more than 400 veterans in the county, not including spouses, are eligible for the tax exemption.

“So far, since September, there have not been any problems,” Lull said. “Despite our efforts to get the word out, there are always more coming out of the woodwork.”

In order to qualify for this tax exemption, a veteran must be rated by the VA with a 100 percent service-connected permanently and totally disabled status; have an individual unemployable rating; have a Specially Adapted Housing Grant rating; or be a surviving spouse of an eligible veteran.

Lull said the only confusion veterans and surviving spouses have run into are veterans with 100 percent “temporary ratings.” This includes prostate cancer from Agent Orange exposure. Lull said some post-traumatic stress disorder ratings at 100 percent are temporary as well because they require future exams.

Gordon Schreiber, deputy director for the Berrien County Equalization Department, said each municipality’s Board of Review meets in the second week of December and approves these exemptions for the upcoming year.

If approved this year, Schreiber said veterans can get their retroactive taxes back for what they paid during the summer months.

“If they paid their (summer) taxes already, they can get the exemption to last the rest of the year and get a refund for what they already paid,” Schreiber said. “I know of a 94-year-old World War II veteran who is qualified and just now figured out he fell under the exemption. There are a lot of cases like that.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 13, 2015)

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