LOCKPORT – The Lockport Board of Education is likely to ask voters whether they favor veterans’ exemptions for school taxes, but the answer won’t be binding.
Board Vice President David M. Nemi said Wednesday that the school district’s attorney, Jeffrey F. Swiatek, has told him that state law doesn’t allow the board to pass the decision on to the voters.
“We cannot put it up as a binding proposition,” Nemi said. “We can put it up as an advisory proposition. We can’t shirk our responsibility.”
He said he believes the board still will place the proposition on the May 20 district election ballot, but the board doesn’t have to go along with public opinion.
Deborah A. Coder, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, says that approving the exemption would reduce taxes for veterans, but would increase the tax rate for every other property owner.
If the exemption had been in place for the current school year, taxes on a non-veteran’s home assessed at $100,000 would have been $36.27 higher than they actually were.
On the other hand, combat veterans would have saved $350 on a $100,000 home.
Trustee Joseph O’Shaughnessy said Wednesday that the board “felt it should be up to the citizens of Lockport to make the decision, rather than nine trustees.”
Coder said the board reached a consensus Monday in favor of a referendum, and is expected to vote at its March 19 meeting to place the proposition on the ballot. A public hearing is required.
Coder said that since the School Board isn’t going to make a decision on the veterans’ exemption before March 1, which is the deadline for exemptions to be applied to the Town of Lockport tax roll, any exemption wouldn’t take effect until the school tax bills for the 2015-16 school year.
Nemi said the board would decide how large an exemption to offer. The law allows maximum exemptions of 15 percent of assessed valuation, with the reduction capped at $12,000.
Those figures rise to 25 percent or $20,000 for a veteran who served in a combat zone. An additional assessment reduction of as much as $40,000 could be added for a wounded veteran.
Veterans’ exemptions on school taxes weren’t allowed until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law in December.