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State School Boards Association weighs veteran tax exemption

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MASSENA — The New York State School Boards Association is suggesting that school districts that are considering a veterans exemption for school taxes involve the community in a study of the effects of such a move.

The issue was debated last week by the Norwood-Norfolk Central School board with no decision made, although Superintendent James M. Cruikshank said he likely would recommend the board not enact the exemption because it shifts the burden to non-veteran taxpayers.

Mr. Cruikshank said that the veterans exemption would be applied first to an eligible resident’s property, followed by the STAR tax exemption. He said that while the state pays the school district for the STAR exemption revenue it has lost, it will not be doing the same for the veterans exemption.

For example, he said, if a veteran had a property assessed at $60,000 and received the enhanced STAR tax exemption, he would have paid no school taxes. That money, instead, would have come from the state. By applying the veterans exemption first, that would be less for the state to pay, he said.

While veterans already have qualified for partial tax exemptions on municipal property taxes, that hasn’t applied to school taxes until now, but the new law leaves the decision on whether to grant the exemption up to school districts.

The exemptions include 15 percent reductions in assessed value for veterans who served during a time of war, another 10 percent for those who were in combat zones and an additional reduction for service-connected disabilities.

In Norwood-Norfolk’s case, the move would affect 173 parcels with a total assessment of $2.4 million. It would increase the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value from $24.92 to $25.15, he said.

School Boards Association spokesman David Albert said the organization agrees with the sentiments shared by Mr. Cruikshank.

“Our position would be that the state should pick up the cost of the exemption. Obviously that’s not the case. This is the law,” he said.

Association officials opposed the legislation and said that, while the service of veterans should be acknowledged, there were other ways to provide them tax breaks without affecting non-veteran taxpayers. They advocated for an income tax credit rather than a property tax base in each individual school district.

“It’s really up to the individual boards and communities whether to move forward with this. I think the board will have to look at the tax base and how that will affect tax rates,” Mr. Albert said.

If schools decide they want to consider the exemption, he said, community members should be involved in the process so they know exactly how it will affect the district’s tax base. Boards are required to hold a public hearing before adopting the exemption.

“One of the things we suggested to boards was to consider holding a public hearing to talk about it and discuss how it would work and what the impact would be. That’s certainly an option for school districts. The issues boards are tackling when it comes to the exemption are going to be different from district to district,” Mr. Albert said.

“The question is, on the community levels, boards will have to decide if they want to go forward with this. They will have to look at the overall impact,” he said.

Association officials said that while veterans are deserving of respect and gratitude, their concern is the shifting of the costs onto other local taxpayers at a time when many are financially struggling.

“We felt it should be something that the state should pick up. Pretty much every district in that case would go ahead. Because the state is not picking it up, we suggest holding some kind of forum or community meeting,” Mr. Albert said.

St. Lawrence County Real Property Director Darren W. Colton said he has heard concerns from several local school districts about the impact of enacting the veterans exemption, and he has prepared paperwork to show how it would affect their tax base.

“I take the exempt amounts from towns in their district and supply that to them,” he said. “Everyone has expressed some concern about how changing will affect their tax rate.”

The biggest concern Mr. Colton said he has heard is that some of the financial burden will be shifted to local taxpayers.

“They all realize this will shift some of the burden away from New York state. It will definitely shift away from the STAR somewhat. All of them had that concern,” he said.

“It will pay the tax one way or another,” he said, “but it would still create a local shift.”

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