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Iroquois School Board revisits tax exemption for veterans; public to weigh in

Three months after gauging public support, the Iroquois Board of Education took a tentative step last week toward proposing a tax exemption for veterans.

An exemption would allow veterans to save between $80 and $930 per year, based on their service and a financial cap set by the board.

New York State lawmakers approved the alternative veterans exemption for school taxes in 2013 but instead of implementing the system statewide, they left the decision up to local school boards.

The financial windfall for veterans would come at a cost to the rest of the district’s taxpayers, who would be required to make up the difference.

That’s a position in which some residents, such as Robert Schafer, don’t want to be placed.

“The exemption contributes nothing to the operation of the school system,” Schafer said.

Schaffer ripped the State Legislature for “dumping off” the decision on local school boards and expressed amazement that Iroquois voters supported the exemption by a 2-to-1 margin in an exit poll conducted at last May’s budget vote.

However, Schafer and Ralph Selletto – who supports an exemption – both said that the question posed to residents was lacking substance.

“Your referendum simply asked are we for it or not,” Selletto pointed out.

Schaffer suggested offering the exemption through a voluntary payment by taxpayers, adding that public support wouldn’t be as strong.

“Odds are it won’t be 2-to-1,” Schaffer said. “They’ll think about it twice.”

Superintendent Douglas Scofield said there is no provision in state law to support Shafer’s idea.

“You can’t have an option to make a payment,” Scofield said.

Board President Charles Specht noted that districts across the state are struggling with the decision and vented his frustration at state lawmakers.

“In this instance, what they’re asking us to do is shift a tax burden off a certain segment of our taxpayers in favor of another,” Specht said. “This makes no difference on the revenues we receive.”

Specht also noted that several district residents already struggle to make ends meet, and the exemption would place a greater burden on their neighbors.

Board trustee Paul M. Bracci agreed, adding that residents still approach him to voice their opposition to an exemption.

“As a board, we have to think of the whole district,” Branco said.

Most board members indicated their support for a small exemption, but they all have their reservations.

For example, Sharon Szeglowski pointed out that the exemption doesn’t take all servicemen into consideration.

She said a widow of a veteran wouldn’t qualify, nor would parents who lost a child while serving in the armed forces.

“I have a neighbor has a son who served and he’s disabled,” Szeglowski said. “He doesn’t own property and (the exemption means) his parents are going to pay more.”

Scofield said the board would have two public hearings on a possible exemption – likely in September and October – before making a decision.

“The latest I see the board taking action at any level would be in November, which would put us in time for the 2016-17 school year,” Scofield said.

The smallest exemption the board would consider provides caps of $6,000 on wartime veterans, $10,000 for combat veterans and $20,000 for disabled veterans.