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Raising veterans' tax exemption is proposed

LOCKPORT -- A proposal to sharply increase the veterans' property tax exemption was presented to the Common Council Wednesday.

City Assessor Vincent M. Smith said the maximum reduction in assessed valuation, which is available to disabled combat veterans, would rise from $30,000 to $75,000. The change would apply only to city taxes. Smith said Niagara County has veterans' exemptions of its own that are higher than the city's, while state law does not permit veterans' exemptions for school taxes.

Using last year's tax rolls, Smith told the Council that if the higher exemptions had been in effect, the city would have lost $85,650 in tax revenue for 2006. The property tax rate would have been 13 1/2 cents, or less than 1 percent, higher than the $15.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation the Council approved in October.

"Less than 1 percent. This would be a good time to do something for the veterans," said Alderman Joseph C. Kibler, R-at-Large. Mayor Michael W. Tucker also endorsed the plan, which the aldermen could vote on as soon as Feb. 15.

Lockport has the lowest veterans' tax exemptions of any municipality in the county. State law allows a 15 percent reduction for wartime service; an extra 10 percent for combat zone service and an additional exemption for a service-related disability. The latter is based on half the veteran's percentage of disability as set by the Pentagon.

However, local governments are allowed to cap the maximum dollar value of the reductions. Lockport limits the war veterans' break to $6,000 off the assessed value of a home.

The combat veterans' limit is $4,000, and the disabled veterans' limit is $20,000, for a total maximum reduction of $30,000.

Smith's plan would cap the war veterans' break at $15,000, the combat reduction at $10,000 and the disabled reduction at $50,000, making a total of $75,000. Smith said the value of the exemption cannot exceed the value of the home.

The assessor estimated that about 600 veterans own residential property in Lockport. Smith said if the Council passes the plan, veterans can apply for the new exemptions by May 1 to receive them on their 2007 city taxes.

On another topic at Wednesday's meeting, Kathy O'Keefe, chairwoman of the Light Up Lockport Committee, said the municipal Christmas events were successful, but she warned that several longtime members have left the committee.

"If it doesn't have some new blood and new energy and new vision, I don't know if it's going to hang on much longer," said O'Keefe, owner of the Noah's Ark toy store.

She said the Treasure Chest distribution of toys to needy children passed out 280 gifts at the Dec. 3 event, while the Winter Wearhouse, offering used winter coats, also was successful.

O'Keefe said electrical problems marred some of the decorations at City Hall and Ida Fritz Park. She also called for the wreaths on utility poles to have colored bulbs, so they aren't lost in the brightness of the new street lights the city installed last year.

Also Wednesday, the Council received Tucker's official appointment of former Public Works Administrator Gary M. Andes to superintendent of streets, parks and refuse. Andes' new job, approved by the Council in the 2006 budget, gives him a salary of $63,860, the same amount he earned last year under his old title.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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