Fallen first responders’ tax break goes to voters

The second of two proposed amendments to the state constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot originated with the tragic deaths of two police officers in Fairfax County in 2006.

The referendum, if passed, would grant a conditional exemption from property taxes to the spouses of emergency responders – law enforcement officers, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, or emergency medical services workers – who died in the line of duty. The exemption would require approval from individual local governments before it could take effect.

Del. Timothy Hugo, R-Clifton, introduced the measure in the General Assembly in response to a request from Suzanne Garbarino. Her husband Michael Garbarino and Detective Vicky Armel were fatally shot in the parking lot of a district police station in Fairfax County.

Dean Goodson, an aide to Hugo, said Suzanne Gabarino told Hugo that an exemption from property taxes would help relieve the financial strains felt in many families as a result of the death of an emergency responder spouse.

Goodson said Garbarino was not in need of the exemption herself but had spoken to the families of other deceased first responders elsewhere in the state who were strapped for cash since the deaths of their spouses.

Proposed constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly with one election in between before they can obtain final approval through a referendum.

Goodson said the bill was modeled on a similar referendum pertaining to deceased service members that won approval several years ago.

“This had bipartisan support the entire way,” Goodson said of the emergency responder exemption. “The only time there was any slowdown was when a few localities expressed concern about it being mandatory. If it passes Nov. 8, localities will have the option to implement this policy and implement tax relief.”

The surviving spouse must still live in Virginia and not have remarried to be eligible for the exemption. The exemption is available to those whose spouses died before the date the referendum, if passed, takes effect. It does not apply to taxes paid on or before the date the referendum becomes law.

The referendum reads: “Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to provide an option to the localities to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any law enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel or emergency medical services personnel who was killed in the line of duty, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried?”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com