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The List: Thank You for Your Service — Property-Tax Relief for Disabled Vets

Slightly more than 10,000 households qualified for the tax break last year. Here's a list of the top 10 communities with the largest number of disabled-veteran exemptions

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Seventy years ago, as a way to recognize the sacrifices World War II veterans made for their country, New Jersey enacted a property-tax exemption for disabled veterans.

Under the law, which has been amended 11 times, certain disabled veteran households do not have to pay any local property taxes. To qualify for the exemption, a veteran must be a homeowner and permanent resident in the state, have served in active duty during a war, be permanently and totally disabled (the wartime service-connected disability must be certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), or have died during service. The unmarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran also qualifies for the exemption. The most recent amendment to the law, enacted in 2007, extends the exemption to the surviving spouse of any veteran whose disability declaration is granted after his death.

Unlike several other breaks offered from New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes, the veterans' exemption is not paid by the state. Instead, it is absorbed by all the other taxpayers within a municipality.

"I would surmise that back in those days, it was seen as a municipal duty to help support your neighbors who fought and came back disabled," said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center and a former deputy director of the state's Division of Local Government Services. "Plus, the state didn't have money to pay for that."

While any municipality that has disabled veterans exempt from paying property taxes will have to shift a small amount of its total tax levy onto the other property owners in town, those amounts are small - roughly 3/10 of 1 percent on average statewide, according to an analysis of property tax data recently released by the DLGS.

That data shows that 10,163 households received the disabled veterans' exemption last year. The average value of the exempt homes was just over $250,000, meaning about $2.6 billion in homes were excused from property-tax payments. New Jersey had more than $1 trillion in taxable property.

These are the municipalities with the largest number of exemptions and how those affected each community. It is interesting to note that all but two are within 20 miles of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which spans eight municipalities in Burlington and Ocean counties.

1. Willingboro, Burlington County, 310 exemptions

The average exempted home value was $168,567, which was about $11,000 higher than the average for all houses. The total value of the homes excused from paying taxes was $52.3 million, some 2.7 percent of the total value of taxable property in the township. Had all those households paid property taxes at the same $3.79 rate as everyone else in Willingboro, they would have generated nearly $2 million in revenue, which is about 2.8 percent of the total tax levy last year. Not only did Willingboro have the largest number of veteran households exempt from property taxes, but the values of those exemptions made up the largest proportions of both the tax levy and taxable-property value of all New Jersey municipalities.

2. Pemberton Township, Burlington County, 218 exemptions

The average exempted home was worth $176,911, $12,000 higher than the average house. The total value of homes excused from paying taxes was $38.6 million, or 2.5 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the same $2.23 rate as everyone else in Pemberton, they would have generated more than $858,000 in revenue, or some 2.6 percent of the total taxes raised last year.

3. Berkeley Twp., Ocean County, 216 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $180,525, $19,000 lower than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was almost $39 million, less than 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $2.08 rate, they would have contributed more than $810,000 in revenue.

4. Toms River, Ocean County, 210 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $260,930, $10,000 lower than the average Toms River house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was close to $55 million, the most of any community in the state. Still it represented only 4/10 of 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $2.27 rate, they would have paid more than $1.2 million in taxes.

5. Manchester, Ocean County, 181 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $176,958, $18,000 lower than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was about $32 million, roughly 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at Manchester's $2.57 rate, they would have contributed more than $821,000 in revenue.

6. Gloucester Township, Camden County, 172 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $211,930, $23,000 more than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was about $36 million, less than 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $3.67 rate, they would have paid $1.3 million in taxes. Gloucester is about 30 miles from the joint base.

7. Brick, Ocean County, 153 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $288,607, $5,000 lower than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was some $44 million, just 4/10 of 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $2.14 rate, they would have added close to $947,000 in revenue.

8. Hamilton, Mercer County, 134 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $229,305, $15,000 higher than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was close to $31 million, only 4/10 of 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at Hamilton's $2.75 rate, they would have paid more than $845,000 in revenue. This township is the northernmost on the list.

9. (tied) Jackson, Ocean County, 123 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $338,792, the most of any municipality on the list. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was close to $42 million, about 6/10 of 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $2.23 rate, they would have contributed some $928,000 in taxes.

9. (tied) Winslow, Camden County, 123 exemptions

The average exempted home was valued at $202,163, some $27,000 more than the average township house. The total value of properties excused from paying taxes was nearly $25 million, almost 1 percent of the total value of taxable property. Had all the disabled vets paid property taxes at the township's $3.34 rate, they would have contributed almost $830,000 in revenue. Winslow is about 35 miles from the joint base.

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