Veterans want Frontier Central School Board members to let residents vote this May on whether the district should offer a veterans tax exemption.
"Us guys have been around for a while," said Peter Bunting, 68, a member of the Town of Hamburg's Veterans Committee, told the School Board at its meeting Tuesday night. "We have paid our dues with our children going to the schools. We're just asking for some kind of break on our taxes."
Dennis Chapman, another member of the veterans committee, said when he turned 65, he got a tax exemption.
"I looked at my wife and said, I get a tax break for being old," he said. "I don’t get it for being a veteran."
If the veterans get an exemption, other taxpayers would have to make up the difference.
Properties owned by veterans in the district account for $33 million of assessed valuation, and exempting that amount would result in an extra 2.5 percent in taxes on the rest of property owners, Board President Janet MacGregor Plarr said .
"I think we need to do our due diligence," Plarr said. "We don't represent just one subset. We represent the district as a whole."
The veterans, members of the town's Veterans Committee, presented petitions with more than 100 signatures asking for a referendum on the tax exemption.
State legislation signed in December 2013 allows school districts to offer a tax exemption to wartime veterans – the same tax exemption program that has been offered by counties, towns and villages for at least 25 years. The state School Boards Association opposed the legislation, and suggesting the state reimburse school districts for the taxes lost to the exemption, similar to the STAR tax exemption.
Board members were not happy that the state put school boards in the position of turning down veterans, or enacting an exemption for veterans, which raises the tax burden for the rest of taxpayers.
"If they want to pass an exemption, they ought to pay for it," Plarr said. "I guess it's a lot easier to pass the buck to us."
Some School Board members said if there were a referendum, they would follow the will of the residents. But they said after the meeting that only the board can enact an exemption.
"I hope we get a non-binding referendum," Board Member Patrick Boyle said, but he added, "No matter what the vote is, we decide."
"I know where they stand, I'm a disabled veteran myself," added Board Member Martin Lalka.