SANBORN – The Niagara Wheatfield School Board may finally act this year on the question of property tax exemptions for veterans.
The board voted unanimously Wednesday to have School Superintendent Lynn Fusco collect data regarding the effect on the district of allowing tax exemptions for property owners who are military veterans.
Several veterans and some representatives of veterans’ groups have approached the board a number of times this year at meetings seeking the exemption. The board has not made a decision, despite an attempt a few months ago to obtain information from Niagara County tax rolls. A public hearing on the subject already has been held.
Paul Bax, a retiree and veteran, who has made numerous appearances before the board to urge the members to support the exemption, again showed up Wednesday to plead his case. He warned the board it had until March to make up its mind.
Board President Steve Sabo said he wanted the board to come up with a timeline on the exemption. “We need to give the people a clear idea of when the board will act,” he said.
Earlier this year, the board tried to take action on the request but found that the available information was insufficient. Though most board members appeared to support the idea, they wanted to know how tax cuts for veterans would impact other property owners.
“There was nothing we could use,” Sabo said of the information from the county. “It was all piecemeal.”
“We’d like to make a decision in December, but we want to do it the right way,” he explained.
The board directed the superintendent to gather information such as the number of households in the district owned by veterans, the total amount of tax credit and the impact of shifting the tax burden. Niagara Wheatfield encompasses all or parts of four towns: Niagara, Wheatfield, Cambria and Lewiston. None of the towns has enacted the exemption, according to the discussion. The only tax break for veterans comes from the county, it was noted.
In another matter, the board will participate in a work group that will look at property exemptions given to the State Power Authority.
James Briggs, president of the Niagara-Orleans AFL-CIO Labor Council, told the board that millions of dollars in property exemptions are given to the authority every year on land that it owns in the county for the power plant and transmission lines. Various municipalities involved miss out on property taxes as a result, he noted.
Briggs also was critical of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which he said grants more tax deals that end up short-changing local municipalities. He said companies are allowed huge tax breaks with the promise of providing jobs that only pay “poverty-level wages.”