Two Naperville City Council members, one of whom is running for mayor, are being criticized for not paying property taxes as a result of a state exemption granted to military veterans because of a medical disability.
Mayoral candidate Benny White and Councilman Ian Holzhauer qualify for the tax break through the state’s disabled veterans’ homestead exemption, which went into effect in 2015. The exemption amount is based on the veteran’s disability percentage.
The criticism stems from content published by the DuPage Policy Journal, an online website with ties to Republican strategist Dan Profit and media entrepreneur Brian Timpone, which has generated some negative social media and public responses.
Naperville City Councilman Benny White, who is running for Naperville mayor in the April 4 election. (Benny White / HANDOUT)
White said it’s no coincidence the disparaging remarks over his tax exemption come two weeks before the April 4 consolidated election.
His tax break status never came up during his tenure on the Indian Prairie District 204 School Board from 2014-2017 or while he’s been on the council, a position he’s held since 2017, he said.
“It’s a shame. This is a new low to go after veterans who have given for their country. It paints a negative picture for all our vets,” White said.
The law — unanimously approved by the General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauer in 2015 — gives veterans a $2,500 annual property tax exemption if they have a service-related disability of at least 30% and $5,000 for disabilities of more than 50%.
Veterans like White and Holzhauer, who have disabilities of 70% or more, are exempted from all property tax payments.
White, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 21 years before retiring from the military in 2008, has not paid property taxes since at least 2018. Will County only keeps four years of records.
White and his wife purchased their 3,651-square-foot house from builder DJK Custom Homes in 2014 for $806,111. Based on the home’s equalized assessed value of of $245,870, the Whites would have paid $17,909 in property taxes for tax year 2021 without the exemption.
Naperville City Councilman Ian Holzhauer (Ian Holzhauer / HANDOUT)
Holzhauer, who spent more than seven years in the Air Force until his forced military retirement in 2014, did not pay property taxes in 2019, 2020 and 2021 — the only years for which DuPage County records are available.
Holzhauer and his wife paid $390,000 for their 2,331-square-foot, five-bedroom, 3.5-bath home in 2015. With an EAV of $161,680, they saved $10,466 in tax year 2021.
Holzhauer said being discharged for medical reasons was not his choice. “It’s not something I asked for or wanted, but health challenges rarely are,” Holzhauer said.
A recent reevaluation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical staff reduced Holzhauer’s disability percentage, meaning he will pay 90% of his property taxes when the county sends out the bills this year for tax year 2022.
Holzhauer said the VA assigns the rating, and over the years he’s received periodic assessments. “We don’t choose our rating,” he said.
Typically he’ll receive a random notice to show up for a review. “I don’t have a choice in the matter,” Holzhauer said.
White said it’s not right for people to say they support veterans and then target them for using the benefits available to them.
“I just don’t get it,” said White, who chose not to disclose his disability.
Holzhauer, who graduated with a law degree from Georgetown University, said he could easily have gone into private practice and earned three times as much, but he wanted to serve his country.
Veterans give up a great deal when they join the military, he said. Among the sacrifices he made during his seven years as a judge advocate general was missing the birth of his first son while he was deployed.
Criticizing people for using a government-approved benefit sends a message to other veterans that they could be attacked when they need support for mental or physical health-related issues, he said.
“It prevents vets from seeking help,” Holzhauer said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth came under a similar attack in fall 2021 when she was denounced for not paying property tax under the same exemption that White and Holzhauer have claimed.
Duckworth lost both of her legs and some of the use of her right arm in 2004 when the helicopter she was piloting was struck by a rocket-fired grenade in Iraq.
Atta Zahedi, of disability advocacy group Access Living, said the Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
“While we agree that the tax exemption system should not be abused, it would be wrong to assume that abuse is taking place just because a disability isn’t visible. People who qualify for exemptions should have them,” Zahedi said.
As for the other mayoral candidates, Scott Wehrli paid $29,817 in tax year 2021 for his 5,769-square-foot home with five bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms, which he purchased in 2005 for $475,000. Its most recent EAV was $460,620.
Because Tiffany Stephens purchased her new town house last year, she has yet to pay taxes on her 2,242-sqaure-foot home with three bedrooms and three baths.