Voters to decide on two constitutional amendments on Election Day

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia voters won’t just be deciding who will represent them in Congress and locally when they cast their ballots on Election Day. There are also two constitutional amendments they have a say on.

Both relate to property tax exemptions.

James Timberlake, Powhatan County’s Commissioner of Revenue, has been getting a lot of calls about one issue in particular lately.

“A lot of times that dwelling is that people’s savings, that’s what they’ve invested in,” he said. “They have to consider selling their largest asset and losing the exemption.”

The exemption he’s talking about is for the surviving spouses of disabled veterans.

Back in 2011, voters supported a constitutional amendment to allow property tax exemptions to be passed from a disabled veteran to their spouse should they die.

According to the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, 323 exemption applications were accepted in 2015. That totals about $1.5 million in property taxes.

“Those ideas aren’t always translated perfectly to paper,” Timberlake said.

There’s a problem some partners came across.

When the exemption was also given to the spouses of service members killed in action, through another ballot item in 2015, changes were made that didn’t apply to the families of disabled veterans.

“The second group were given the ability to move within Virginia and keep their property tax exemption, but the first group of surviving spouses were not,” Carrie Ann Alford with the Department of Veterans Services said. Alford worked on the new amendment and has been involved with legislation for veterans for years.

In other words, the surviving spouses of disabled veterans couldn’t move out of the home they shared with their partner after they passed.

Timberlake says the families he’s spoken with are trying to move for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes it’s just downsizing, sometimes it’s just dealing with memories and things in that house. Sometimes it’s moving towards closer family members,” he said.

The other aspect to qualify for the exemption is the same. Surviving spouses cannot remarry to get the tax break and have to stay within the Commonwealth.

If voters chose yes on the ballot measure, Alford says voters will fix this loophole in the system.

Here is how this constitutional amendment question will show up on the ballot:

Question: Shall the real property tax exemption for a primary residence that is currently provided to the surviving spouses of veterans who had a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability be amended to allow the surviving spouse to move to a different primary residence and still claim the exemption?

There is another measure on the ballot to give a partial property tax exemption to homeowners whose properties deal with flooding regularly and have made improvements on their properties to mitigate the flooding. Voting yes will allow these homeowners to have the exemption. Voting no will not. 

Here is how this constitutional amendment question will show up on the ballot:

Question: Should a county, city, or town be authorized to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if flooding resiliency improvements have been made on the property?

To read up on both of these constitutional amendments, click here.

Polling hours are between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 6. If you are in line at 7 p.m., you will be able to vote.

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