By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — BEEKMANTOWN — Beekmantown Central School will not offer tax breaks to military veterans in 2014-15.
Instead, the School Board has decided to gather more information about the implications of such exemptions before deciding whether to make them available in the future.
“First and foremost, we need to recognize those who have served our country in any capacity,” BCSD Superintendent Dan Mannix told the board at a recent meeting.
But this legislation is unique, he said, because “instead of allocating a tax levy that applies equally to all taxpayers, we’re being asked to reallocate taxes to certain groups and provide exemptions to other groups.”
‘MUST WEIGH IMPACT’
By approving the breaks, Mannix noted, the district may be asking other individuals who are on fixed incomes to pay more in taxes than they can afford.
And some veterans, he continued, have spoken out against the exemptions, saying they did not serve their country to have taxes increase for their neighbors.
“Before Beekmantown makes a final determination, we should closely investigate the current benefits offered to military personnel and evaluate the complete impact on our taxpayers,” Mannix said.
The superintendent recommended the board table the issue until later in the year, possibly summer, when it has a better understanding of its impact.
‘PUBLIC INPUT IMPORTANT’
Board President Debbie Passno agreed, saying BCSD can always approve the exemption for future years.
Board member Leonard King said he felt it is important for the board to hear the public’s thoughts before making a decision.
AuSable Valley Central and Plattsburgh City School districts recently held public hearings on the matter, with AVCS ultimately approving base-level exemptions for 2014-15.
The City School, however, opted to postpone the decision and seek input from taxpayers at the May budget vote.
Similarly, Northeastern Clinton Central School will survey voters in May before determining whether to offer the tax breaks.
The State School Boards Association recently conducted an informal poll of school board members in that state and found that 69 percent of respondents opposed adopting the exemptions, while 21 percent were in favor of it, and 10 percent were unsure, according to a media release from the association.
“School board members strongly support our veterans, but they believe that reimbursement for the veterans exemption should be covered by the state rather than by other local taxpayers,” State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in the release.
“The law as is presents school boards with a dilemma.
“If they adopt the exemption, that would increase taxes for other taxpayers in their district. If they do not adopt the exemption, they could be viewed as not being supportive of veterans.”
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VETERANS TAX EXEMPTIONS
Real-property-tax law has long allowed the state's counties, cities, towns and villages to exempt veterans from some property taxes.
The option was extended to school districts in November 2013 via legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The program classifies veterans as wartime, combat-zone and disabled, with wartime veterans eligible for the lowest exemptions and disabled, the highest.
Schools may also choose among several levels of tax breaks, which vary depending on the municipality.
The deadline was March 1 for school districts to authorize exemptions that would have taken effect in 2014-15.