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Veterans look to sway Iroquois School Board at hearing

If a veterans tax exemption fails to materialize in the Iroquois Central School District, it won’t be for lack of trying on the part of area veterans.

More than one dozen war vets residing in the district pleaded their case to the Board of Education during a public hearing last week in the middle school auditorium.

For most of them, an exemption would represent appreciation for their sacrifices while others noted that veterans still serve their country or community, years after their enlisted time ended.

One Vietnam vet, who didn’t identify himself, noted that many Americans shunned servicemen returning home.

“We were just kind of thrown out the door,” he said. “It’s too late for us, but show respect for the young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. They volunteered to serve and are going to be paying these taxes. Show them some appreciation.”

Henry Quick, a vice commander at East Aurora Post 362, American Legion, pointed out that his organization not only serves veterans, but also the community by providing color guards for special events and providing financial assistance through scholarships.

“There are some people who, if you do put this through, you’ll be saying ‘Thank you’ to them,” Quick added. “But there are some veterans I served with who will never hear those words because they never came home.”

The few residents who spoke against the exemption were quick to note that they are not disrespecting veterans; they are against the extra financial burden and aren’t happy that the State Legislature failed to act on the issue.

Helen Pennington, who supports an exemption, said that the issue could cause problems in terms of policy.

“What’s the rationale for having a tax exemption for one particular, very important group, that served our country?” Pennington asked. “How can you deny making exemptions for other groups?”

Members of the School Board indicated last month that they will likely approve an exemption, just not a large-scale one that some veterans had hoped.

“We’ve been asked to shift the burden from neighbor to neighbor,” said School Board President Charles F. Specht. “For the State Legislature to be unable to find the courage to make a decision is reprehensible.”

The district has several options from which to choose, but the most likely scenario would provide wartime vets with a $6,000 exemption; combat vets would get a $10,00 exemption and disabled veterans, $20,000.

Specht said the district could have sent the exemption to a referendum, but the result would have been nonbinding.

“We felt it was more important to hear from the community,” Specht added.

The district will host a second public hearing on the exemption at its next board meeting, Oct. 7, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the middle school auditorium.