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State attorney general talks veterans property taxes, consumer protections

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WATERTOWN - Though the state’s property tax laws can be confusing at times, the state’s attorney general said one thing should be clear: All military veterans deserve the state-level exemptions they are owed.

“It’s bad enough when there are scammers and crooks who want to take advantage of service members,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “I think it’s worse when the people who are supposed be delivering benefits to them and fulfilling the promises all of these politicians make about gratitude for your service are screwing it up, or are not getting the job done.”

In addition to speaking about the property tax relief effort, Mr. Schneiderman used the roundtable at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, Watertown, to talk about actions his office had taken to protect soldiers from fraudulent business practices.

The state allows for a 15 percent property tax exemption for all veterans, and an additional 10 percent for those who served in a combat zone. The exemptions can be worth several thousands of dollars per year.

The 136XX zip code area has 2,476 retirees from all military branches who would be eligible for the exemption, according to the Fort Drum 2012 Economic Impact Statement released in March.

The attorney general’s office has started a new initiative to unify the state property tax exemptions and sent letters to county assessors statewide to inform them of the effort.

Among the problems with the state’s implementation of the tax exemption, Mr. Schneiderman said, was inconsistent information between sources, which was determined by sample calls to various state assessors.

Other questions arose from which conflicts were applicable for the combat zone bonus. “We should be doing everything we can do to make it simple, and to make sure the folks who are supposed to answer those questions at the local level have the answers ready and give the right answers every time those questions are asked,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Consumer protection measures for soldiers at Fort Drum and elsewhere also were discussed.

Mr. Schneiderman spoke about recent actions by his office against companies like SmartBuy, which locked soldiers into exorbitant financing plans for items such as computers, and Fort Drum Vehicle Storage, which improperly stored and relocated the vehicles of deployed soldiers.

The attorney general’s office has also found success against unscrupulous business operators was through its collaboration with federal regulators, such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

As one example, Mr. Schneiderman said that when it was determined the operators of SmartBuy had moved their operations to Tennessee, federal regulators were able to relay information to the state’s investigators about the business and its practices.

For more information about the veterans property tax exemption, call the attorney general’s office at 1-800-771-7755.

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