Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 5, 2014

Veteran tax breaks to go before voters

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

Lockport City School District residents will have the opportunity to cast a vote in May on whether or not school tax exemptions should be offered for military veterans. But, the matter will only be an "advisory proposition," as the final decision still rests with the Board of Education.

The proposition will appear on the May 20 ballot, when residents cast a vote in the budget and school board election.

Board members decided with a 7-1 vote Wednesday to offer the proposition to voters to gauge the public's feelings concerning the exemptions.

"It's like doing a survey," said Vice President David Nemi.

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.

According to state law, if a school board authorizes veterans exemptions, they also have to choose a level to cap the reduction at. The board elected to go with the cap level of $6,000 for the wartime veterans, an additional $10,000 for those who served in a combat zone and up to $20,000 for a disabled veteran. A school district-offered tax exemption would be at the same level for every veteran within the district's borders regardless of what municipality they lived in.

But, the exemptions don't affect the amount of tax revenue the district brings in. Meaning the reduction in taxes is covered by raising the taxes of non-veterans and those who don't qualify.

When the matter first came before the board in January, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Deborah Coder said when using this year’s school budget and tax levy, the tax rate would have increased by 36 cents, to $25.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. On a home assessed at $100,000, the school tax bill would rise by $36.27 with the STAR rebate.

For veterans, the exemptions with this year's numbers would produce a possible annual savings of hundreds of dollars. Using the current school year’s numbers, veterans could have saved as much as $385. Municipalities offer veterans exemptions as well.

It's too late to offer the tax exemptions for the 2014-15 school year, so the earliest they could be enacted would be September 2015. Representatives from Niagara County Real Property Tax Office and the City Assessor's Office suggested waiting until the summer when tax rolls are complete, thus giving board members more accurate numbers to work with.

Trustee Thomas Fiegl was not present Wednesday. The lone dissenter was Trustee Joseph O’Shaughnessy, who agreed with the idea that board members should wait for the tax rolls to be finished in July.

"My thought is we should hold off on this," he said. "Without some bona fide numbers, it reflects on us as not being prepared."

Like the budget, a public hearing concerning the exemptions would be held before the May 20 vote. Most likely, it'll be at the same time as the budget hearing on May 7.

Coder said there aren't any local school districts offering the veteran tax exemptions for the fall. The rest are either waiting for more information or putting the measure up for a vote like Lockport.

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