WESTERLY — The Town Council has decided to leave the tax exemption offered to veterans of the military services at the current $359 reduction that is available annually and to continue reviewing the exemption each year.
The council had considered increasing the exemption, which officials said is the third-most generous offered in the state, for future years to reflect changes to the cost of living. The council had previously approved the exemption for assessments as of last Dec. 31.
During a workshop meeting on Monday, the council also considered amending the exemption ordinance to give the tax assessor the authority to exempt the same amount every year without seeking the approval of the council each year, but council members said they preferred having the council look at the exemption every year.
"What's being asked is rather than come before the council every year, just come up with an amount the Town Council would like," said Shawn Lacey, interim town manager.
The maximum assessed value that can be exempted in Westerly, according to state law, is $40,500, according to a memorandum from David Thompson, tax assessor. Some municipalities do not offer an exemption.
Council President Sharon Ahern said she was reluctant to lock the town in to a specified amount each year.
"We don't know what's going to happen next year," Ahern said.
Councilor Suzanne Giorno, who often speaks on behalf of the town's veterans, said she agreed with Ahern.
"I could understand if we weren't the third-highest in the state for our veterans here, but I have to agree we don't know what is to come and we are going to continue to support our vets and seniors — we have always done so," Giorno said.
The town also offers an income-based exemption for seniors. An anticipated increase in Social Security benefit payments will put some seniors outside the income threshold for the exemption, Thompson said in his memorandum.
In 2021, 828 veterans and their widows saved $25,809,000 of assessment, or $297,300 in revenue for the town, from the exemption in Westerly and 254 seniors saved $35,748,400 in assessment, or $411,800 in revenue.
In other business, the council agreed to move a proposal forward for the town to modify its contract with Pare Corp. as the company continues work on a multi-purpose walking and biking path along a section of Atlantic Avenue. The modification would allow the company to study the feasibility of incorporating lighting into the trail project. The company will also be asked to develop a preliminary design for the lights.
Pare Corp. will be required not to exceed $27,165 for its study and design of he lighting system. The funds are available under a grant the town received from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the bike path.