Local veterans began urging the school board to enact the tax exemption in February before passage of the 2017-18 school budget, but the board felt they needed more time to gather information about the potential impact of offering the exemption and public opinion.
The Alternative Veterans’ Tax Exemption allows individual school districts to offer a property tax break to veterans if adopted by the school board by resolution. The state does not reimburse school districts that offer the exemption.
The district’s budget and tax levy remain the same when the exemption is offered. The difference in revenue caused by the reduced assessment applied to exempt properties is redistributed to the non-veteran tax payers.
Under the exemption, veterans who served in active duty during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, or spouses of deceased veterans, would receive a 15 percent reduction in assessed property value on their school taxes up to a maximum value set by the school board.
Another 10 percent reduction would be offered to veterans who served in a combat zone and veterans who were disabled in service would receive an additional reduction based on their disability rating from the Veterans Administration or the Department of Defense.
The school district conducted an online community survey that was open from Jun. 13 through Aug. 1 to gauge whether district residents support offering the veterans’ tax exemption. BSCSD Superintendent Joseph Dragone reviewed the results of the survey and a public hearing was held before Wednesday’s school board meeting.
There are 10,857 taxable properties in the school district with 1,073 qualifying for the veterans’ exemption. Eligible properties range in assessed value from $6,800 to $905,000. The district survey yielded 593 responses.
Of the respondents, approximately two thirds said they were in favor of offering the exemption while one third said they were not. Overall, 30 percent of respondents are eligible to receive the exemption, 62 percent are not and 8 percent were unsure.
If the exemption is offered the school board must choose one of three different levels. Survey takers who support the exemption were split with 37 percent saying it should be offered at the highest level, 31 percent the middle level and 32 percent the lowest.
Dragone explained the distribution saying, “If you are eligible and you do support the exemption you want the highest. If you aren’t eligible and you do support the exemption you want the lowest.”
“I think it’s important to note that you have a lot of people supporting it that aren’t eligible, but they’re saying we want to support something,” he said.
Local veterans were on hand to show their support for the veterans’ exemption with six taking the opportunity to speak in favor of the exemption during the public hearing. No one spoke against offering the exemption on Wednesday.
The veterans urged the board to take the opportunity to recognize veterans for their service, reminding the board that many of the eligible veterans were drafted into service.
“In effect those draftees represent the community’s forced contribution to the national defense. Until the advent of the all-volunteer force they carried the entire burden while many had gone about their daily lives unencumbered,” veteran Gene Ratigliano said.
He went on to acknowledge that non-veteran households would carry the burden of offering the exemption, but pointed out the sacrifices that veterans made in the past that have continued to shape their lives.
“The uniqueness of such service, conscripted or voluntary, is also characterized by a reduction of personal freedoms and rights, assistance pay, financial hardship and physical and emotional stress,” Ratigliano said.
Several veterans pointed out that their lives were put on hold while they served in the military, having to delay college or entrance into the work force, which also put them behind on social security contributions and saving for retirement.
Thomas Rielly, a local veteran who has pushed the board to support the veterans’ exemption throughout the year, broke down the cost of the exemption for non-residents using the district’s projected impacts.
If enacted at the lowest exemption level, the Town of Milton would see the lowest average annual increase in school taxes, $13.27, a cost $0.25 per week. At the highest exemption level, the Town of Malta would experience the highest average annual increase, $77.12, or $1.48 per week.
When the school board took up the discussion following the public hearing, the board members agreed that based on the survey results the district should enact the Alternative Veterans’ Tax Exemption, but struggled to decide on the exemption level to offer.
At the minimum exemption level $9.8 million in property value would be removed from the tax base for a total redistributed tax levy of $181,500 to non-veterans. This would amount to an annual increase for non-veterans of $18.21in Malta, $13.27 in Milton, $13.65 in Ballston and $16.73 in Charlton
At the basic level $18.31 million in property value would be removed from the tax base for a total redistribution of $340,000 to non-veterans. This would amount to an annual increase for non-veterans of $34.09 in Malta, $24.84 in Milton, $25.55 in Ballston and $31.32 Charlton.
At the maximum level $41.47 million in property value would be removed from the tax base for a total redistribution of $769,000 to non-veterans. This would amount to an annual increase for non-veterans of $77.12 in Malta, $56 in Milton, $58 in Ballston and $71 in Charlton.
The seven members of the school board quickly ruled out the highest exemption level, but wrestled with the decision between the two lower levels.
Board of Education member Nancy Fodera voiced her appreciation for the military community, sharing the impact that service had on her parents when her father served during World War II. But, she admitted that she was torn over the exemption due to the impact that would be felt by senior citizens in the district living on fixed incomes.
Board member Lillian McCarthy who works with low income residents in the community agreed that $15 to $20 a year would be a burden to some residents, but expressed her belief that the community could support these residents if they needed assistance.
Board member Dottie Sellers shared that she and her husband are retired combat veterans and had not been in favor of the exemption initially due to her feeling that she had not served to receive a discount.
However, after seeing the survey results and hearing from residents who were drafted, she came down in favor of the exemption.
While considering the exemption level, Sellers said, “Level C [the lowest level] seems awfully low to me. I think that personally I would probably go to level A, the basic maximum, the mid-level, so that we are providing veterans a big enough exemption.”
Board member Jeanne Obermayer argued that the board should adopt the exemption at the lowest level as the survey results showed that a majority of residents either did not want to offer the exemption or favored offering the exemption at the lowest level.
“There is the emotional side, there is the side of what our job is as board members and we have a fiduciary responsibility to our constituency. I think it is really important that we asked them what they want and engaged with them and 54 percent said no or at the lowest level,” Obermayer said.
“As a community, we asked them their opinion and they gave it to us,” McCarthy agreed.
Board of Education Vice President and army veteran Susan Fillburn was the lone holdout for offering middle exemption level, however the six remaining board members agreed that the lowest level should be put in place.
Board of Education President Kevin Schaefer requested that a resolution on the Alternative Veterans’ Tax Exemption be drafted at the lowest exemption level to be adopted at the next board meeting. Due to the budget cycle, the exemption will not take effect until the 2018-19 school year.
Following the decision Ratigliano thanked the board for their decision to offer the exemption, but pointed out that many of the eligible veterans are senior citizens living on fixed incomes and expressed his hope that the board would increase the level of the exemption in the future.