Niskayuna school board OKs tax break for veterans

Niskayuna resident and veteran Gary Horton recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the middle of his talk to the Niskayuna School Board on the Alternative Veterans Exemption last month. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)Niskayuna resident and veteran Gary Horton recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the middle of his talk to the Niskayuna School Board on the Alternative Veterans Exemption last month. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)

BY ZACHARY MATSON
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna veterans won the tax breaks they pushed for as the Board of Education on Tuesday night adopted a special exemption for wartime and disabled veterans.

The exemption, which takes effect in time for veterans to meet a March 1 deadline, amounts to savings of between $100 and $500 for a home assessed at $250,000, depending on what criteria the veteran meets and where he or she lives.

The board, which approved the tax breaks in a 6-1 vote, took action after hundreds of residents signed onto form letters in favor of the exemptions and dozens of veterans came out to a public hearing last month.

Around 70 percent of respondents to a district survey supported the exemption. The district received 1,150 responses on the survey.

The board members also pointed to the importance of pushing state lawmakers to pass legislation that would grant state aid to districts to cover the cost of the exemptions, suggesting it was unfair that the law forced districts into the unenviable position of giving tax breaks to veterans and shifting the cost to other constituents.

“I believe this law is flawed. It’s putting school boards in a position they shouldn’t be in; this shouldn’t be our decision,” said board member David Apkarian, who voted in favor of the exemption. “I ran for the school board to educate kids not to decide whether veterans deserve a tax break.”

To many of the veterans, approval of the tax break meant more as recognition of their service than as a financial “game-changer.”

The exemption does not change the district’s overall tax levy, so the cost of the breaks for the district’s veterans is passed on to the rest of the district’s taxpayers.

The tax increase for those homeowners is estimated at between $11 and $26 for a home assessed at $250,000 based on last year’s budget. District residents in Niskayuna would see the $11 increase, while district residents in Glenville would see the $26 increase.

“This could be an opportunity to say to your children and grandchildren, ‘Hey, we aren’t going to go to McDonalds today, we are going to stay at home, make peanut butter sandwiches and talk about veterans and what they did for us,’ ” said Bob Serotta, commander of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter.

Board President Patricia Lanotte cast the only no vote after Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. recommended approval of the tax exemption. She said the underlying law was flawed and urged supporters of the tax break to lobby lawmakers to pass the pending legislation. She also said by approving the exemption, the board diminished its authority to oppose other unfunded state mandates in the future.

“To me this vote is ultimately about fairness and equity,” Lanotte said as she explained her no vote. “Right now the playing field is level, by voting on this we are creating inequity.”