HUDSON–The City School District Board of Education has unanimously approved school tax reductions for veterans beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The vote took place February 23, immediately after a public hearing on the topic. Hudson now joins the Germantown, Ichabod Crane and Taconic Hills school districts, which also provide the benefit.
Eligible veterans–those who served during periods of conflict–will be able to exclude 15% of the value of their property (up to a maximum of $12,000), an additional 10% (up to a maximum of $8,000) if the veteran’s service involved combat, and more (up to a maximum of $40,000) if the owner is disabled because of combat injuries. Gold Star parents, whose sons or daughters died in combat) will also receive the exemption.
War veterans have been eligible for reductions of their in county and town taxes throughout the state for years, according to Gary Flaherty, director of Veterans Services for Columbia County. In December 2013, the state adopted a law extending the exemption option to school districts.
Germantown was the first district to approve the exemptions in the county in January 2014. At that time, said Hudson City School District Business Executive Robert Yusko, said his board “felt there were too many unknowns.”
Pressure grew on the remaining boards this year to approve the exemptions, which are not reimbursed by the state. At a February 18 meeting of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee, Mr. Flaherty spoke about a young veteran who threatened to pull his children out of the Chatham District if the that board did not approve the tax reduction. “Young veterans want a chance to buy their homes,” Mr. Flaherty said.
One concern has been the increase in school taxes for non-veterans required to make up the revenue lost by reducing taxes for veterans. Mr. Yusko estimated that in the Hudson District this increase would be 1.37% for the non-exempt taxpayers. In dollar amounts, this would range from $21 a year for a $100,000 house to $78 a year for a $300,000 house.
Mr. Flaherty reported that the Ichabod Crane district estimated that the school tax increase on a $250,000 house for those not eligible for the reduction would be $48 a year. At the February 18 County meeting, Supervisor Richard Scalera (Hudson) recommended that the state, rather than non-veteran taxpayers, make up the lost revenue from exempt veterans. The Ichabod Crane School Board has passed a resolution asking the state to do that.
Columbia County has between 5,700 and 5,900 veterans, about 11% of the county’s population, above the average for the whole state. Right now, Mr. Flaherty said, no local veterans are homeless or in jail.
Meanwhile, an increasing proportion of the veterans are young, from recent wars. World War II veterans are dying off, and Korean War veterans are in their 80s. Vietnam veterans are dying younger, some because of exposure to Agent Orange. Nationally their current life expectancy is 72 years.
One problem post-1990 war veterans are likely to suffer is traumatic brain injury from roadside bombs. Another thing that distinguishes them from those who fought in earlier ones is that many go into combat two or three times. And Mr. Flaherty reported that an average of 22 young veterans a day commit suicide nationwide.
There 602 eligible veterans and no gold star parents in the Hudson District, Mr. Flaherty said. About 13 people attended the February 13 public hearing, including a man with “Vietnam” on his baseball cap. The only attendee other than Mr. Flaherty who spoke was Arnold van Deusen, 83, of Claverack, a former member of the Hudson school board. “I went on one tour,” in the Korean War, he said, adding, “Those who go again and again… I don’t know how they do it.”
Mr. Flaherty, who is an Army veteran, said that the county receives $39 million a year because of veterans and benefits from the Veterans Administration saves the county the cost of assisting veterans in need. “When you go into combat, you never come back the same, both physically and mentally,” he said.
At the close of the February 23 hearing, Hudson School Board President Peter Rice read a resolution supporting the tax break for veterans. School Board Vice President Tiffany Hamilton motioned to accept it, and all five Board members present–Mr. Rice, Ms. Hamilton, Sage Carter, Maria McLaughlin, and Carrie Otty–voted in favor.