District hears support for veterans tax break

CHATHAM–Military veterans and district residents filled the high school library last week for the public hearing convened by the Chatham Board of Education regarding the alternative veterans tax exemption. The message from those attend was clear: Approve the tax relief for veterans.

Before the hearing was opened up to the public for comments, school district Business Administrator Michael Chudy presented information about the exemption is and what it could mean to Chatham. The exemption is a property tax break for certain military veterans of wartime. This exemption has already available to towns and counties for several years, but this is the first year it is available for school districts to offer.

If offered, veterans would be eligible if they served during the following time periods: World War II (defined as December 7, 1941-December 12, 1946), Korean War (June 27, 1950-January 31, 1955), Vietnam War (February 28, 1961-May 7, 1975), or the Persian Gulf Conflict (August 2, 1990-present). Cold War era veterans do not qualify for the exemption.

There are three different levels of the exemption that qualified veterans could apply for: wartime service, combat and service related disability. The wartime exemption equals property tax reduction of 15% of the property’s assessed value. The combat zone exemption adds on another 10% to that reduction, and the disability exemption equals half of the disability rating multiplied by the assessed value.

There are also different levels of upper limits that the school district can select from if it decides to offer the exemptions. The basic levels of maximum limits are $12,000 for wartime, $8,000 for combat, and $40,000 for disability.

The loss of revenue to the district from reductions in veterans’ tax bills is not reimbursed by the state. Instead, those lost revenue would be made up by redistributing the tax burden among non-veteran taxpayers. This seemed to be the school board’s only reservation about the idea. Last month, board members expressed concern over the possibility of creating more hardship for other taxpayers.

Mr. Chudy said currently there are 425 veterans living in the school district. Last week he said that if Chatham were to offer this exemption at the basic level, it would mean an increase of 0.54% in taxes for the other residents.

In order for any veterans exemption to be offered this year, the school board must adopt a resolution by March 1.

Of the several speakers who commented during the public hearing, none opposed offering the exemption.

Gary Flaherty, director of Columbia County Veterans Service, said the idea that this will create a large impact on nonveterans is “farthest from the truth.” He said veterans have a very difficult time when they return home, and need any help that can be offered.

“We currently have the highest suicide rate for veterans,” he said. “Any benefit they can get is worth it.”

One veteran of the Vietnam War said the taxes are becoming overwhelming.

Melissa Hogan, a disabled veteran and a counselor for the state Division of Veterans Affairs, echoed the comment, saying she needed to get another job after retiring from the military because her retirement pay was not enough.

“Any exemption on school taxes would be greatly appreciated because I am still working, and I am still disabled,” she said.

Another veteran who served two years in Vietnam said he doesn’t want to see the young men and women of military service returning today to the same difficulties and hurdles that veterans in the past have faced.

Jay Rippel, a veteran of the Persian Gulf and a member of the Chatham Village Board, urged the school board to approve the exemptions before the March 1 deadline. “We all volunteer to serve our country because we love our country,” said Mr. Rippel. “Show us your love.”

School board President Melony Spock said the board hopes to make a decision within one of the next two business meetings. She said the board will continue to accept comments through email or phone call.

Also at the January 13 board meeting:

  • Mr. Chudy updated the board on this year’s implications of the Affordable Care Act. He said this year, the district will have to offer health insurance to at least 70% of the district’s full-time employees. Next year, they will have to offer insurance to 95% of full-time employees. Full-time employees are considered employees who average more than 30 hours a week.

Mr. Chudy said the district is still “running the numbers,” but he believes Chatham will have no issue being above the 70% standard this year

  • Josh Noble, 5th grade teacher at the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School, presented an update on how the 5th grade’s move from the middle school to the elementary school is going. District Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said the move was made three years ago for programmatic and social reasons.

Mr. Noble said there were initial challenges, such adjusting to the elementary model and styles of teaching. He said those challenges “are pretty much gone” and the fifth grade is working well in its new building. He said the move has helped increase parent participation. Also, the fifth grade teachers, who used to teach in the middle school before the move, are better able to prepare their fifth grade students for middle school.

Elementary School Principal Kristen Reno said the move is also beneficial to fourth graders because they get to see certain privileges the fifth grade has so they know what to look forward to. Ms. Nuciforo said another reason the move went well is that the relationships already formed between fifth and sixth grade teachers, which allows for better communication

  • Ms. Nuciforo encouraged people to follow the school district on Twitter, @ChathamCSD. She said people can also get various district updates and news by following her on Twitter, @Supt_Nuciforo.

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