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Veterans urge Lockport to grant them school tax breaks

LOCKPORT – Four military veterans addressed the Lockport Board of Education on Wednesday, urging it to pass a partial school tax exemption for veterans in time for it to take effect on this fall’s school tax bills.

At last year’s budget referendum, voters were asked to consider an advisory referendum on whether the district should grant those exemptions, and the question was approved with more than 60 percent support, but the Board of Education hasn’t addressed the matter since. In the neighboring Starpoint district, the board rejected veterans exemptions Monday by a 5-4 vote.

The deadline for action is March 1 if exemptions are to be included in the tax roll used to compute the 2015-16 school taxes.

“I hope you do listen to the voters’ message this past spring,” said Otto Calderone, one of the veterans who went to the microphone.

Last year, the district calculated that granting the exemption would have saved $350 in school taxes for a veteran who owns a house assessed at $100,000. But for nonveterans, the exemption would have pushed up the taxes on a $100,000 home by $36.27.

Deborah A. Coder, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said both of those figures would increase a little as the 2015-16 school budget currently stands. She said the 2015-16 school tax rate would be higher for everyone by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation if the veterans win their exemptions.

“Don’t look at it as a dollar figure or as a loss or a gain,” 35-year veteran Bill Kaufman said. “Look at it as a ‘thank you’ to the hundreds of veterans in Lockport.”

Coder said the board may vote on the veterans question next month, when its work session is set for Feb. 11 and the formal meeting for Feb. 25.

Wednesday, the board heard Coder’s first budget presentation of the year, projecting a 5.4 percent increase in spending and a 9.79 percent increase in the tax levy, but the figures were of limited value because Coder had to use last year’s state aid amounts.

She said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in an unprecedented move, is withholding individual districts’ preliminary school aid estimates until he and the State Legislature reach agreement on a package of teacher evaluation and discipline reforms.

“It’s backed us into a corner,” Board President John A. Linderman said. “It’s up to the State Legislature and the governor to work out a compromise so we get realistic numbers.”

Vice President David M. Nemi said, “By law, they have to give us an increase in categorical aid.”

Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said that aid pool is $377 million statewide, but Cuomo is offering a $1.1 billion increase on top of that if he gets his way on teacher reforms.

“We have no idea what that means for Lockport,” Bradley said.

Coder said the district will be working with a 2.03 percent tax cap this year. Any larger increase would require the budget to pass with at least 60 percent of the public’s vote rather than a simple majority. Her first budget version projected spending of almost $91 million, an increase of $4.66 million, based on pay raises already contracted for and increased costs of goods and services.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com