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Akron veterans voice support for school tax exemption

The audience at Akron School Board’s meeting last week was dotted with Veterans of Foreign War caps, as at least 20 veterans gathered to voice their support for a proposed school tax exemption.

Brenda Serena, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and mother of a senior at Akron, pleaded with the board on Wednesday.

“Just give us a break,” she said. “It’s the least we can give.”

School districts across the state have until March 1 to opt into the Alternate Veterans school tax exemption for the 2015-2016 tax year. With two School Board members missing on Wednesday, Superintendent Kevin Shanley tabled a discussion on the tax exemption. A public hearing will not be held unless the board decides to move forward with the exemption, he said.

The exemption would not impact the district’s capital improvement project and would give a break to local veterans, he said. Still, it could leave a larger burden to other residents.

“The board is still struggling with how to disburse those tax dollars,” he said. “We’ve got senior citizens and others who are struggling.”

If the exemption is passed, eligible veterans in the district could see a $447.30 decrease in their school taxes in the first year, while those without an exemption would see a $42 increase, according to Nancy DiLonardo, deputy director of the Erie County Real Property Tax Services.

The county property assessment exemption rates are capped at $18,000 for noncombat veterans, while a combat veteran is eligible for an additional $12,000 with a total of a $30,000 exemption. Disabled veterans are eligible for a $60,000 maximum exemption.

The rates are the most common in the county and the district could still choose levels lower than $18,000 or $30,000, DiLonardo said.

“We do have levels that aren’t as high,” she said. “So the impact is not as great.”

The school tax exemption rates may decrease though, when multiplied by a town’s equalization rates. Within the Akron Central School District, Alden’s equalization rate stands at 47.5 percent, while Clarence and Newstead stand at 100 percent.

According to Erie County rates and school tax rolls from September 2014, there are 448 veterans eligible within the district. The exemption would reduce the district’s taxable value by $9.8 million, which would increase tax rates. Another 38 veterans with pro-rata funds could apply with the county for the alternate veterans exemption, causing an additional reduction of $1.1 million. Cold War veterans would not be eligible for the exemption.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, local veterans argued that’s a small price to pay for their years of service. Frank Falkowski, who served six years in the service including two tours of combat in Southeast Asia, expressed gratitude for the property tax break given to veterans.

“For many veterans, it’s meant the difference between home ownership and a trailer,” he said. The school tax exemption would provide some “modest” tax relief. He said: “We believe it is commensurate with the sacrifice.”