In The News › St. Tammany Parish voters to decide disabled veterans homestead exemption referendum Oct. 22

St. Tammany Parish voters to decide disabled veterans homestead exemption referendum Oct. 22

Monday, October 10, 2011
By Bob Warren
The Times-Picayune

For the second time in as many years, St. Tammany Parish voters will decide a referendum that seeks to double the homestead exemption for veterans who are disabled from their military service.

Last November, voters in St. Tammany and statewide approved a constitutional amendment that gave parishes the option to hold local elections to ask voters if they want to double the homestead exemption for veterans whose service injuries render them entirely unable to work.

The issue will come before St. Tammany Parish voters again Oct. 22; passage this time would make it the rule in St. Tammany.

In the metro area, voters in St. Charles Parish have approved the increased homestead exemption for disabled veterans. Like St. Tammany, voters in Jefferson, St. John the Baptist, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes will decide the issue in those parishes Oct. 22.

The St. Tammany Parish Council, at the urging of Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core and council members Marty Gould, Al Hamauei, Steve Stefancik, Reid Falconer and Gene Bellisario, approved legislation this spring to bring the issue to parish voters.

The measure only affects veterans considered 100-percent disabled by the U.S. Department of Military Affairs due to service-related injuries. If approved, the homestead exemption for these veterans would increase from the usual $75,000, to $150,000. The benefit would extend to spouses after the disabled veterans die.

Core, a supporter of the measure, said the tax break would affect a small portion of taxpayers and estimated it would cost the parish around $30,000 annually.

“So it won’t really cost that much,” she said.

Robin Keller, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said information on the specific number of disabled veterans in St. Tammany is confidential due to privacy laws. She said there are more than 23,000 veterans living in St. Tammany, but that the number of veterans who would be impacted by the referendum, if approved, is “significantly lower.”

The idea for the increased homestead exemption came from the Baton Rouge chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, where the commander wanted to help disabled veterans and saw that Texas offered a tax break.

Last fall, the government watchdog group Bureau of Governmental Research estimated that 2,500 veterans statewide would qualify. The BGR opposed the constitutional amendment, in part saying it was the federal government’s role to provide benefits to veterans and noting that a provision in the amendment prevents local governments from replacing lost revenue through other measures.

The Northshore Legislative Alliance, a collaboration of the St. Tammany West and East chambers of commerce and the Northshore Business Council, is set to discuss the measure on Wednesday.

If the vote on the constitutional amendment last November is any indication, the measure is likely to find a sympathetic electorate in St. Tammany. The constitutional amendment paving the way for the local election passed here by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.

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