Tonawanda News

Columns

March 5, 2014

Local veterans tax exemptions make for difficult school boards decisions|CONFER: Veterans tax exemptions make for uneasy school boards

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — Further confounding the issue is the near certainty that as the exemptions are granted, those properties removed from the tax rolls will yield smaller STAR payments to the district. It’s a damning predicament for a village whose residents routinely pay the highest effective tax rate in the state.

The numbers are considerably less frightening – therefore, the tax breaks are more attractive — in the Lockport City School District, which is a larger district than Wellsville and is blessed with a much stronger economy (far more retail operations and factories). In Lockport, non-veteran taxpayers would see their taxes rise by 1.3 percent to cover the exemptions. For a $100,000 home, that’s an extra $36 per year.

Even so, Lockport decision-makers are finding it difficult to do their duty and come to a decision. Like all other districts, they are left wondering, “Who do you please? Who do you offend? Veterans or the majority of taxpayers?” They considered putting it to the voters as a referendum on the May school budget ballot, but that idea was shot down: It is illegal under state law; the boards themselves must make the final decision.

One district, Batavia, has decided to take it to the polls anyways. They will be holding a straw vote in May. The results will be non-binding, but it will give them the understanding of public sentiment that they need to make their decision (which will be based entirely on the outcome of the straw poll).

That’s probably the route other school boards will take once word of Batavia’s actions spreads. Few board members want to be labeled as the bad guy who says “no” to vets, so a straw poll will serve as an adequate shield for that. That’s especially true given that most school board members across the state are actually against the tax exemptions. Of the 600 of them who responded to a recent School Boards Association survey, 70 percent were opposed.

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