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February 12, 2014

Panel: Let voters OK vet breaks

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Voters should decide whether or not to offer partial school tax exemptions for military veterans, according to the Lockport City School District’s audit committee.

Board Vice President David Nemi, who chairs the audit committee, said Monday that while they support the idea of assisting veterans, members believe the decision should be up to the taxpayers. The committee recommended putting the veteran exemptions up to a public vote.

“Taxpayers are the ones who are going to pay more,” Nemi said. “We think it’s a great thing, but we feel the best thing would be to let the voters decide.”

Under a new state law signed into effect last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, school districts can choose whether to authorize veterans exemptions. The authorized breaks are: a 15 percent reduction in assessed property value for veterans who served during a time of war; another 10 percent reduction for those who were in a combat zone; and an additional reduction for veterans with service-connected disabilities.

Municipalities have been authorized to offer partial exemptions to veterans since 1984. The new law simply extends that authority to school districts, but it also leaves up to school boards the choice whether and how to implement exemptions, by a board vote or a public referendum.

According to Deborah Coder, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance, the exemptions would reduce the amount of school taxes that veterans pay, but would not affect Lockport’s tax levy, the total amount of tax revenue that the school district raises.

Bottom line, she said: If the veterans exemptions were adopted, school taxes would likely increase for property owners who don’t qualify for the exemption.

If the exemptions were adopted, veterans could save a few hundred dollars in school taxes — but the exemptions could force an increase in the general tax rate, Coder said.

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