Weekly Feature

2014-12-17 / Front Page

Veterans make case for district tax exemption

by STEVEN JAGORD
Editor

Veterans packed a classroom at Ledgeview Elementary School on Monday night to voice their support for the Clarence Central School District’s adoption of a veterans tax exemption.

During a public hearing scheduled prior to the evening’s Board of Education meeting, board President Mary Ellen Kloss said she hoped having people voice their opinions would help guide the board’s decision.

“The impact for vets would be obvious, but the impact on other taxpayers that live in the district, and on the district with respect to the STAR reimbursement on the budget, is information I think the public needs to hear again,” Kloss said.

Tax Law 458-a, was signed into law last December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and allows school districts to offer veterans the same tax exemptions on their properties that town and county governments have offered since the 1980s.

In the Clarence district, the assessments that would be exempt from property taxes total $27.5 million — just less than 1 percent of the district’s total assessment, which is $2.9 billion. There are approximately 1,400 eligible veterans in the district that could take advantage of the exemption.

If adopted, the total exemption amount would be redistributed to the rest of the district. During a brief presentation to the audience, district Business Manager Richard Mancuso said that would equate to about a $28 per year increase in existing taxes for nonveterans, based on a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

“If you already have a veterans exemption, you will most likely be eligible for this,” Mancuso said. “The exemption also applies to the widow of an eligible veteran as long as they have not remarried.”

Districts can choose from varying exemption cap levels. Clarence is considering Level E, which is currently used by the county for setting alternative veterans exemptions and, according to Mancuso, has been the most common one adopted by other districts in the area.

If adopted, wartime veterans would be eligible for a maximum of $266 off their school tax bill, while combat veterans would max out at $444 and disabled would hit the cap at $888.

Multiple veterans addressed the board expressing their support for the exemption.

“Each vet, if they gave the minimum of two years in the service, that would equate to over 22 centuries of life that the men and women of this town gave so we could sit here tonight,” Jaques Georger said. “I came here tonight because I think we work hard enough to deserve this and we would appreciate it.”

He also noted the many other town activities that veterans host or participate in throughout the year such as parades, bugle services, providing cemetery flags and conducting a flag retirement on the first Saturday every June.

With Level E assessed value reductions capped at $18,000, $30,000 and $60,000, depending on the category, one veteran criticized the exemption for being too modest, noting that the town offers a higher $27,000/$45,000/$90,000 veterans exemption cap, which is Level H.

Mancuso said he thinks the county chose Level E so that it would be more palatable to nonveteran residents who incur the difference and that might be more appropriate for the district.

Jessica Viola came to the meeting as a representative of the Town Assessor’s Office and offered her explanation as to why the town is able to offer the higher cap.

“I can tell you why the [Town of] Clarence exemption is $45,000 off of your assessed value. It’s because our town tax rate is $1.03,” Viola said. “It’s not $14.80 like the school tax rate. I think it would be a different number if our tax rate was higher.”

Viola also said she felt that many of the veterans in the audience did not support the school budget in spring 2013.

“I remember the Rock Oak people coming into my office and coming into our high school parking lot in busloads to vote no for the school budget,” she said. “And I know what that did to our schools and for our students. It divided our town.”

Viola suggested the board put the exemption to a townwide vote. The vote would be only to gauge public opinion, as it would not be binding.

Sheridan Drive resident Dan Hamlin said he was disabled because of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange — used by the U.S. in Vietnam — and that he and his wife voted to support the school budgets.

“I would like to think that as I get older and the many veterans that are returning home with severe disabilities, I would like to see them be able to live in Clarence,” Hamlin said. “I urge you to make Clarence a place that veterans can afford to live in.

“I was just reading a Homefinder, and there were seven or eight properties in Clarence that sold last month. All but one was over $300,000. But there are modest homes here that veterans can afford to live in, and not all veterans are living month to month and are professionals. But I would like to see particularly disabled veterans be able to stay and live in Clarence.”

The exemption must be approved by March 1 to apply to this year’s school taxes, and Erie County wants approval by the end of January to prepare for the applications.

The next Board of Education meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12, at Harris Hill Elementary School, 4260 Harris Hill Road.

email: sjagord@beenews.com

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