CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- The Cambridge Central School District will discuss enacting tax exemptions for veterans, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave boards the right to do so in December.
In the state of New York, 95 percent of municipalities have already approved the Alternative Veterans' Exemption, which had previously not applied to school taxes, according to the state's tax website. The Hoosick Falls Central School District held a public hearing on this issue at the end of January, and it was estimated that, if enacted, the exemptions would cause the tax rates of non-veterans in Hoosick Falls to rise by about $5 per $1,000 paid in school taxes. Cambridge will hold its own hearing on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium.
Washington County estimates that enacting the exemptions would raise other residents' taxes by about two percent. Superintendent Vincent Canini felt that the tax impact would be very difficult to predict, but he seemed to agree with the county assessment, predicting a two to two and a half percent increase. Veterans make up about five percent of the population of Cambridge.
If passed, veterans will be eligible for a 15-percent reduction in assessed value if they served during a time of war, an additional 10 percent if they were in combat zones, and an additional reduction for any service-related disabilities. These exemptions would only apply to a veteran's primary residence.
"This is a mine field," said school board member Dr. Tom Wolski, "and the governor has allowed us to step right into it. It's going to hurt feelings no matter what we do. If we allow these exemptions, we have to tell the little old lady on Main Street that her taxes are going up."
Canini agreed, saying, "There are people who are struggling now."
Complicating the matter further, any veterans who are also eligible for the STAR program would have the new benefits subtracted from their assessed value first, and then the STAR benefits. This has the potential to be significant, as STAR reductions are reimbursed back to the schools by the state, while Alternative Veterans' Exemption funds are not. So, as the board explained, if a veteran was already paying nothing in school taxes because of STAR benefits, they would continue to pay nothing, but the state would no longer be obligated to compensate the school for those lost funds, moving the burden to other taxpayers.
School board chairman Paul Baker-Porazinski asked for questions from the audience so that the board could seek answers before the public hearing. Several members of the audience who were veterans criticized the board for not fully supporting the measure. "If it wasn't for veterans, that woman over there wouldn't be able to be here, speaking her mind," said one.
Baker-Porazinski repeatedly reminded the audience that the board was only seeking questions, and that there would be plenty of time for debate at the public hearing.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB