February 13, 2014

Editorial: Allow limited vet tax break

One by one, school boards around the North Country are voting on whether to grant a new veterans exemption.

It is a decision that is leaving districts torn between wanting to show deference to veterans and concern about the tax burden on all residents.

Late last year, New York state gave school districts the option of granting tax breaks to people who have served in the military. Those breaks are already allowed in county and town taxes.

The state did not provide any funding to make up the difference in district taxation, so any break given to veterans will have to be absorbed by other taxpayers.

Veterans can be eligible under three categories: wartime, combat zone and disabled.

Basic wartime vets qualify for the lowest exemptions — the district can allow a break on between $6,000 and $27,000 in property value. The second-highest break goes to combat-zone vets: $10,000 to $45,000. Disabled veterans are eligible for the highest exemption: $20,000 to $90,000.

Veterans sign up once, and the exemptions continue through their lifetimes and then, after their deaths, transfer to their spouses.

It won’t be easy for school officials to wholly reject this idea; it might look as if they have no respect for veterans.

But some non-vet taxpayers — no matter how much they revere people in the military — are bound to be a little put out with taking on an additional share of the tax load.

Districts that grant the exemptions might have reason for more trepidation about budget passage if taxes go up for a majority of property owners.

If school boards want to allow the new exemption for the current tax season, they must do so by March 1. If not, the tax break can be added in future years.

Plattsburgh, Willsboro, Elizabethtown, Northern Adirondack and AuSable Valley all had the veterans exemption on their latest school-board agendas. Most have scheduled public hearings to try to gauge taxpayer attitude about the exemptions.

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