School Board urged to exempt veterans from school tax

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Posted: Sunday, February 9, 2014 2:28 am

PLATTSBURGH — The public is being urged to attend an open forum Thursday, Feb. 13, on veteran school-tax exemptions.

At its most recent meeting, Plattsburgh City School Board chose to delay action until its next session on the exemption, which districts are allowed, but not mandated, to offer.

A decision on board-member term limits was also delayed until Feb. 13.

ALLOWABLE LEVELS

Legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November 2013 authorized school districts to offer partial school-tax exemptions to military veterans. Individual school boards must decide whether to do so and how much property value to exempt.

Veterans eligible for the program are divided into three categories: wartime, combat zone and disabled.

Basic wartime veterans qualify for low-end exemptions while disabled veterans can be offered the highest exemptions.

The lowest allowed exemptions are $6,000 worth of property for wartime vets, $10,000 for combat zone and $20,000 for disabled veterans.

The highest allowed exemptions are $27,000 for wartime, $45,000 for combat zone and $90,000 for disabled vets.

For the exemptions to be applied for the current tax season, they would need to be approved before March 1.

That would remove the option of allowing district residents to make the decision as part of the May budget vote.

MORAL IMPERATIVE

Speaking during the public-comment portion of the last meeting, North Country Honor Flight director Danny Kaifetz, himself a veteran, urged the board to authorize the new exemption as a gesture of gratitude for the efforts of this region’s service members.

He said it is “incomprehensible that you could conceive of placing a higher value on budgets than on our service to our nation.”

Kaifetz voiced frustration that much of the conversation surrounding the exemptions had focused on the financial details and urged the board to keep in mind the moral value of providing the tax cuts.

“Take this opportunity to honor those who offered their lives to make sure your schools would exist and ensure the language taught there would be English,” he said.

AVERAGE TAX HIKES

Plattsburgh City Assessor Kathy Livingston told the Press-Republican that 617 veterans living in Plattsburgh City School District would be eligible for the tax exemptions.

Should the board adopt the measure, the school tax rate would increase for district residents to compensate for the exempted households.

Plattsburgh City School District tax rate stands at $21.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means the average residential property — assessed at $122,500 — pays $2,616 in annual school taxes now, assuming no other exemptions are applied.

If the School Board were to select the maximum veterans exemption rate, the tax rate would increase to $21.84 per $1,000. That would result in owners of the average home paying $58.80 a year more for the highest allowed veteran exemption and $12.85 more for the lowest.

VOTER INPUT

Board member Fred Wachtmeister asked if the exemptions would be applied in addition to any other tax breaks.

City School Associate Superintendent Jay Lebrun said they would not conflict with any pre-existing veterans land tax exemptions and could be added to senior-citizen and disabled exemptions.

“They’re also cumulative within a dwelling, if there are multiple veterans qualifying as property owners,” Lebrun said.

A plan was discussed to give voters the option to change the board’s chosen level of veterans exemption as part of the budget vote.

“That also should be their responsibility, and that, I think, would send an even more powerful message to our veterans that they are appreciated and will be rewarded,” Wachtmeister said.

City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short noted that the level chosen by the board would apply for the upcoming tax season. Any adjustments made by voters would start in 2015.

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PUBLIC HEARING

Plattsburgh City School Board will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.

The School Board expects to vote on the exemption that evening.