Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach, and Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin unveiled a proposal last week that would extend existing tax exemptions for property owners who make improvements to their homes for the sake of occupants with physical challenges, handicapping conditions or who are legally blind.
Current law allows municipalities, counties and school districts to opt in to the exemption; the new proposal would extend the exemption to special districts, such as sanitation, sewer or water districts. They would be given the same opt-in option that other districts currently enjoy.
The inspiration for the measure came from Miller’s son Oliver, Clavin said. Oliver has battled against a range of physical issues, including traumatic brain injury, cognitive disabilities, reoccurring seizures and blindness.
“We didn’t even have an inkling of what was ahead of us,” said Miller at a news conference held in front of her home in Atlantic Beach on April 5. Carpenters worked to widen her front door behind her, to help Oliver’s wheelchair fit though easier. “We had no idea what we would need as far as home improvement and home modifications,” she added.
“The cost of making home improvements can be significant,” Clavin said. “Those costs can be dramatically higher when highly specialized improvements are needed to accommodate people with physical challenges.” Homeowners might need to widen doorways or lower kitchen counters and tables, he said. Installation of a hydraulic or pneumatic elevator could cost as much as $30,000, he said, adding that the total cost could exceed $120,000 in some cases.
The enhanced property tax exemption was one way government could help. Clavin estimated that the average tax savings might be as much as $650 per homeowner, or 25 percent on its general tax bill.
In addition to families like Miller’s being assisted by the program, veterans are another group that would receive help. “Lots of vets who come back disabled live on a very limited income,” said Donald Sioss, the adjutant, or senior officer, of the Disabled American Veterans Department of New York. “Some veterans can’t do what they did before, so any help they can get by saving money on their taxes is a great benefit to them.” The DAV helps veterans file for compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other monetary benefits.
The exemption would apply to any household whose occupants face the kinds of challenges Clavin outlined. The measure does not specify that they be family members. Currently, 144 homeowners in the Town of Hempstead receive the “tax reduction for the physically disabled” exemption.
The measure would not take away from the revenue special districts currently receive, Clavin said, because the exemption only applies to improvements. Normally, those improvements would cause property assessments to rise, according to the property’s rise in value. Clavin estimated the expanded program might total cost special districts in the Town of Hempstead a total of roughly $50,000.
“This could help hundreds in the town,” Clavin said. “There could be thousands in the county and tens of thousands [people who could be helped] in the state if they do this.”