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2017-11-29 / Featured / Front Page / Real Estate

County approves tax break for spouses of fallen first responders

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


In August, after an accident claimed the life of Virginia State Police pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, more than 1,200 people attended a memorial service at Southside Church of the Nazarene. The Board of Supervisors last week approved real estate tax exemptions for surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty. 
JAMES HASKINS In August, after an accident claimed the life of Virginia State Police pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, more than 1,200 people attended a memorial service at Southside Church of the Nazarene. The Board of Supervisors last week approved real estate tax exemptions for surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty. JAMES HASKINS Three months after a Midlothian resident died when his Virginia State Police helicopter crashed outside Charlottesville, the Board of Supervisors approved a real estate tax exemption for surviving spouses of local emergency services personnel killed in the line of duty.

The board held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance change at its Nov. 15 meeting. Jenefer Hughes, the county’s newly elected commissioner of the revenue, spoke in support of the measure, which is expected to take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

“It’s tragic when somebody loses a spouse. This can’t possibly replace that person, but it is at least a gesture toward relieving financial stress that results from that loss,” she said.

State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, wrote to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle in September on behalf of Karen Cullen, the widow of state police pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, asking the board to grant the tax exemption.

Cullen, 48, and co-pilot Berke Bates, 40, died Aug. 12 while conducting airborne surveillance of violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protestors at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

The Chase and Cullen families are neighbors in Chesterfield’s Bayhill Pointe subdivision. Amanda Chase used to coach the Cullens’ teenage sons, Ryan and Max, in swimming. “I thought it was a way to honor Jay’s service by helping his family,” Chase said. “They are dealing with a lot emotionally. This is one less thing they have to worry about.”

Chesterfield’s local public safety agencies (police, Fire/EMS and sheriff) have lost nine people in the line of duty – most recently, police officer Gary Buro, who was shot and killed in May 2006 while responding to a domestic dispute in Ettrick.

An amendment to the Virginia Constitution authorizing a property tax exemption for the spouse of “any law-enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel or emergency medical services personnel who was killed in the line of duty” was placed on the ballot last November and approved by about 80 percent of 3.8 million voters.

The exemption was passed during the 2017 General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The state constitution already required Virginia localities to exempt from taxation all primary residences owned by military personnel killed in action. The Board of Supervisors approved a corresponding change to the relevant county ordinance in April 2011.

Unlike that legislation, the tax exemption for spouses of fallen first responders was made optional.

“You’re not required to do this, but you’re able to consider it because of the constitutional amendment,” County Attorney Jeff Mincks told the Board of Supervisors during its Nov. 15 meeting.

According to Mincks, county staff estimated the new tax exemption will cost the county about $20,000 in real estate tax revenue annually, but he acknowledged that figure could change in future years.

The exemption no longer applies if the spouse of the fallen first responder moves out of the county or remarries.

“The impact on the budget is small,” said Clover Hill Supervisor Chris Winslow, “but for families it is immeasurable.” ¦

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