The Frederick County Council unanimously passed a bill Tuesday evening to establish a property tax credit for disabled veterans.
The credit will apply to veterans across the county who were honorably discharged, have permanent disabilities and who make $100,000 or less per year in federal adjusted gross income. Council member Steve McKay (R) was the bill’s main sponsor. He was joined by council members Jessica Fitzwater (D), Kai Hagen (D) and Michael Blue (R) as co-sponsors.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Fitzwater said. “I know it will benefit some very treasured members of our community.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses a percentage scale to describe the severity of veterans’ disabilities, and it determines their benefits accordingly. For example, a veteran with a minor disability might earn a 10 percent disability rating, but a veteran whose disability meant they couldn’t care for themselves at all would earn a 100 percent rating.
To qualify for the council’s newly established tax credit, Frederick County veterans must have a disability rating of at least 50 percent on the VA’s scale, which is divided into intervals of ten.
But the legislation includes two separate tiers, McKay said. Veterans with a disability rating of 50, 60 or 70 percent will earn a 25 percent credit on their property taxes, while those with a rating of 80 or 90 percent will receive a 50 percent credit. Under state law, veterans with a 100 percent disability rating are already exempt from property taxes.
While most Maryland counties have instituted tax credits for retired veterans, McKay said Frederick would be among the first to establish one for veterans with disabilities: Washington County is the only other county he could find with a similar system.
“We can be leading the way,” McKay said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, McKay addressed questions about how much the credit would ultimately cost the county. He stood by previous statements that he wasn’t concerned about the price tag, though.
A fiscal note attached to the bill estimated the county would lose about $1.9 million in revenue by implementing it, but McKay said it could likely be a few hundred thousand dollars higher. That all depends on just how many county residents are eligible, he said, and how many apply to take advantage of it.
Plus, in order to implement and oversee the new program, the county will have to hire at least one new staffer, said Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) — adding to the bill’s overall cost.
Though all council members supported the bill, that point led to a back-and-forth. At last week’s meeting, when the council voted to approve County Executive Jan Gardner’s budget, McKay and Phil Dacey (R) each spoke at length about their concerns with the county’s growing spending.
Keegan-Ayer and member Jerry Donald (D) saw an “irony” in McKay’s lack of concern with the tax credit’s cost to the county, given his stance last week.
“One of the reasons that government grows is that we ask it to do more things,” Donald said. “If you want to do something like this, sometimes you have to provide for ways to do it.”
McKay “feels very strongly about this — so much that he doesn’t care what it costs,” Keegan-Ayer added.
“I just want to remind people that we always need to consider a perspective that someone else might be coming from as we advance a perspective of our own,” she said.