Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 15, 2014

Voters won't have final say on vet breaks

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — While the voters may have a say on whether or not partial school tax exemptions should be offered for military veterans, the final decision is still up to the Lockport Board of Education.

Deborah Coder, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said the district’s attorney Jeffrey Swiatek informed officials this week state law doesn’t allow voters to determine the fate of the exemptions. Voters can cast a ballot, but the decision on whether or not to offer the exemptions is still up to the board regardless of the outcome.

“The proposition can only be advisory,” Coder said.

Under a new state law signed into effect last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, school districts can offer military veterans tax breaks such as: 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.

Approving the exemption would reduce taxes for veterans, producing a possible annual savings of hundreds of dollars. Using the current school year’s numbers, veterans could have saved as much as $385.

But as the district’s tax levy would not be affected, the exemptions would increase the tax rate for every other property owner. A home assessed at $100,000 would see school taxes rise $36.27 this year.

On Monday the Lockport City School District’s audit committee recommended putting the veterans tax exemption before voters for the May 20 budget vote. Members for the most part seemed to be in favor of having the item on the ballot.

Coder said the board will meet to talk about the exemptions at its March 5 work session, then decide what level of exemptions to offer. There are different exemptions offered within the town and city, but the district can only offer one exemption to veterans within their borders.

Board members are expected to vote March 19 to put the exemptions on the May 20 ballot. A public hearing would have to be scheduled.

In order to take effect for a given school year and be applied to tax rolls, the exemptions would have to be approved by the Board of Education by March 1. Since it’s too late to take place for the next school year, the earliest the exemptions would take effect is the 2015-16 school year.

Municipalities have been authorized to offer partial exemptions to veterans since 1984. The new law signed by Cuomo now extends that authority to school districts, but it also leaves up to school boards the choice whether and how to implement those exemptions.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.