By CHRIS EBERHART
Harrison became one of the few school districts in New York to adopt the veteran’s tax exemption amendment, which it did in a unanimous 7-0 decision during its April 23 school board meeting.
Because the bill was adopted before the May 1 cutoff, it will go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year.
The exemption came as part of a bill at the state level to amend the property tax law, which has already provided veterans with tax breaks through municipal budgets for the past few of decades. Passed by the state in December 2013, the amendment will include school taxes, which are separate from municipal taxes, and essentially shifts a portion of the tax burden to non-veterans.
As part of the bill, the state left the decision to extend this benefit to the veterans up to each individual school district.
In what has become a rarity in Westchester County, the Harrison school district adopted the veteran’s tax exemption. Harrison joined the New Rochelle school district as two of the very few schools in the county to adopt the amendment. Westchester County is a microcosm of the state’s feelings toward the amendment.
According to a Feb. 24 poll by the New York State School Boards Association, 69 percent of school board members who responded to the poll oppose adopting the proposed “alternative veterans exemption” that would provide a new property tax exemption for some veterans but would require other local taxpayers to make up the difference.
According to the poll, 21 percent support the exemption and 10 percent were unsure.
Harrison veteran Ben De-Fonce wasn’t surprised the town’s school district adopted the tax break.
“This community has always looked out for the veterans,” DeFonce, who served three tours in Korea, said. “It’s much needed relief. Taxes are getting out of control, and we don’t have the jobs we used to and we don’t make the money we used to. But everything is triple [the cost] and even more than that. Plus we have kids going to school. It’s tough to keep up.”
According to the bill, those eligible for the school tax break include wartime veterans, who would receive a 15 percent reduction on school tax plus an additional 10 percent reduction for veterans serving in combat zones, which includes expeditionary medal recipients.
Veterans who suffered service-time disabilities would be entitled to receive additional tax compensation that would be equal to 50 percent of their disability rating, which is used by veteran’s affairs to signify the extent of the disabiltiy
The added expenses incurred by the school district would not count against the school’s state mandated tax cap, nor would the school lose money. Instead, the district would be compensated for added expenses by the non-veteran taxpayers in the community.
In Harrison, there are 390 eligible veterans—158 of which would automatically receive the tax exemption and 231 would have to file additional paperwork to receive the active duty and combat exemption.
Robert Salierno, the assistant superintendent of business, said, if all the veterans participated, approximately $600,000 worth of exemptions would shift to the non-veteran taxpayers in the community.
While the Harrison Board of Education adopted the amendment, Salierno said the state should have “taken the lead on this rather than making it a local issue and decision.”
Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Board Association, said the same thing.
“School board members stro-ngly support our veterans, but they believe that reimbursement for the veteran’s exemption should be covered by the state rather than by other local taxpayers,” Kremer said. “The law as-is presents school boards with a dilemma. If they adopt the exemption, that would increase taxes for other taxpayers in their district. If they do not adopt the exemption, they could be viewed as not being supportive of veterans.”
This dilemma has caused hesitancy in most schools in the area.
In Eastchester, Superintendent Dr. Walter Moran said the school district is consulting the district’s legal advisors so “the board has a complete understanding of the impact of any action that it may take.”
Bronxville’s assistant superintendent of business, Dan Carlin, said the school district is “taking a wait-and-see approach” and has already decided against passing the exemption for this year.
Rye and Tuckahoe school districts both said they have not adopted the exemption and don’t envision doing so this year.