Like other districts, ICC gives tax break to vets

VALATIE–The Ichabod Crane school board has become the latest district in the county to approve the Veterans Tax Exemption. The vote came at this week’s meeting. The board has been discussing the exemption since the fall and held a public hearing to discuss the numbers in November.

Germantown has approved similar exemptions for combat era veterans, as has Taconic Hills. The measure has also been discussed by the boards of Chatham, Hudson and New Lebanon.

At the ICC board’s November meeting the administration used estimates to show the tax impact on district property owners. But district Superintendent George Zini said at the February 3 meeting that those earlier estimates were calculated at a “high level” and district Business Manager Michael Brennan presented corrected estimates.

Mr. Brennan said that according to the Columbia County Real Property office, the total of the exemptions for veterans in the district would come to just over $12 million using the Basic Exemption or Level A. That represents 1% of all assessed property in the district.
A slide in his presentation read, “The $12,298,060 is subtracted from the overall assessed value, which in turn will result in a lower school taxable value.”

Mr. Brennan said the estimated savings to veterans would range from $228 to $393. He said savings would also vary depending on the town where the veteran lives. The estimates are based on the 2014 assessments and tax levy values. Veterans who qualify for the exemption also vary depending on the date and nature of their service. Spouses and parents of veterans may also be eligible for some exemptions.

He estimated the tax increase on residents of the Town of Kinderhook not eligible for the exemption would be $48 on properties valued at $250,000. For a property valued at $150,000 the estimated increase would be around $29 a year.

Governor Cuomo signed legislation last year to allow school districts to offer the Veteran’s Tax Exemptions. The state and county already offer exemptions to veterans. Since the board approved the exemption, it will take effect in the 2015-16 school tax year and will not need to be approved again.

At the meeting board members discussed how hard a decision it was for them to approve the exemption, since it meant a tax increase for some property owners. Board member Barbara-anne Johnson-Heimroth said that though she could pay an extra $50 in taxes, “Is my neighbor willing to pay that or able to pay that?” But she also said that giving the tax break to veterans might attract them to the area. “It would be my hope that more veterans move into the district and increase the population,” she said. The district has experienced declining enrollment over the last few years.

Another board member, Tricia Gerkman, said that she struggled with the decision as well because “it has nothing to do with education.”

Board member Cheryl Trefzger talked about the state passing the vote on to boards of education to make the decision on the tax exemption. “I feel almost bullied into it,” she said, referring to the state’s approach.

The majority of the board voted in support of the exemption, with three board members abstaining. Board member Jeffrey Ouellette said that he talked to the people at the county’s Real Property Tax office and that school districts often mirror the tax exemptions that counties offer, except for the veterans tax exemption, which the county approved in the 1980s. “Exemptions are nothing new,” he said.

The board sent a letter to the governor and legislature asking them to amend the Veterans Tax Exemption. In the letter the board asked the state to make up for the funds that would shift to non-veteran tax payers if some level of exemption given to the 652 veterans in the district. As of Tuesday night’s meeting the board had not received a response to the letter.
Also this week the board discussed the governor’s decision not to release preliminary state aid estimates for school district until at least April 1. “It’s kind of unprecedented not to have those numbers by now,” Mr. Zini said. He called it an “unfortunate situation,” saying that the district “can’t really budget.”

The superintendent said that he and other area superintendents would be writing a letter to the governor about the issue and that there will be information on the district’s website, www.ichabodcrane.org, about how people can contact their representatives in Albany.
Members of the district’s teachers union, ICTA, were at the meeting saying they had form letters people can sign about the issue.

The union members also presented a motion to the board that they had passed and planned to send to Albany about the “I Refuse Movement” to oppose high stakes testing. Part of the motion says that the ICTA lobby to eliminate the use of high stakes testing and to get other organizations and affiliates involved. The motion also resolves that members with children in grades 3 through 8 will refuse to take the assessments.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .  

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