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Veterans upset over tax exemption chosen by Eden board

Eden Board of Education members heard military veterans’ fury Wednesday night about their decision last month to choose a lower property tax exemption amount.

Five veterans voiced their anger to the board and expressed their disappointment in the decision.

“What you did was sleazy, slimy and lowball,” said Adam Henrich, 40, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania and Kosovo.

Board members voted 4-3 Dec. 17 to select a moderate tax exemption on the assessed value of a home, compared to a more generous one that could have been offered and was approved by voters in a non-binding referendum 370-195 last month.

Under the level the board members chose, wartime veterans will get a $6,000 exemption on the assessed value of their homes, $10,000 for combat veterans and $20,000 for disabled veterans.

If the board had chosen the higher level, the exemption would have gone up to $18,000 for wartime veterans, $30,000 for combat veterans and $60,000 for disabled veterans.

Switching the proposal left some veterans feeling disrespected, said Kevin O’Gorman, an internist with a practice on Depot Street in the town of Eden.

“You should stand up and say yes or no, not vomit in the middle,” he said.

O’Gorman, 70, served in the Vietnam War after being drafted into the Navy. He described being spit on upon his return.

“I’m still bitter,” he said.

In addition to citing his many injuries, Henrich spoke of having combat-induced nightmares every other night. He reminded the board young veterans have returned with brain damage and missing limbs.

Another veteran, Bob Stickney, compared the board’s choice to a frugal restaurant customer.

“That’s just like throwing a penny to a waitress,” said Stickney, the town of Eden’s disaster preparedness co-director.

Every school district in the state is deciding whether to enact the exemption and which level to choose.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature established a partial veterans’ exemption for county, city, town and village property taxes, then revised the law 13 months ago to include school districts. The state offers no compensation, however, for the lost revenue.

District officials have voiced concerns about the lower revenue and have requested reimbursement. School districts were the only entities that had to choose whether to enact the exemption.

Later in the meeting, Paul Shephard, a board member who opposed the moderate level, proposed voting on the higher one.

His motion failed, with Colin Campbell, Scott Henderson and Michael Breeden abstaining. Barbara Henry was absent.

Proposals need support from at least four of the seven members to pass. Shephard, Patricia Krouse and Michael Byrnes, the board’s president, backed the measure. They opposed the moderate level in December.

Shephard voiced his displeasure with the board’s earlier decision, saying he felt “blindsided.” He called it “obvious” that those four board members made their choice before the referendum.

Sharing Shephard’s sentiment, Krouse also felt “blindsided.”

“To change that to piddly pennies is an insult,” she said. “I’m very disappointed and I’m not even proud to say I’m part of this board.”