School voters have say on capital projects, vets tax break

PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ
Duanesburg veterans pushing for tax exemption in front of Duanesburg High School. Left to right is, Ray Koontz, Paul Harris Ben Persing, Arthur Wright, Bill Tindale, Chauney Yager, Ken Chrinian, Richard Funk, Art Crandall, Don Mace, Don Collins, and Fred Bradt.PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ Duanesburg veterans pushing for tax exemption in front of Duanesburg High School. Left to right is, Ray Koontz, Paul Harris Ben Persing, Arthur Wright, Bill Tindale, Chauney Yager, Ken Chrinian, Richard Funk, Art Crandall, Don Mace, Don Collins, and Fred Bradt.

By Zachary Matson

— Voters in the Duanesburg School District will have their say on a nonbinding vote Tuesday on whether to adopt a tax break for veterans — the same day Niskayuna voters will decide the fate of a $5 million project.

While votes in Niskayuna would authorize the school district to move forward with the proposed building project, the Duanesburg vote will be the next step toward that school board’s decision about whether to give veterans a tax break, the cost of which would be shifted to other district taxpayers.

Ultimately, the Duanesburg school board will have to pass its own resolution adopting the tax exemption for wartime veterans, but they moved for an “advisory vote” as a way to get more input from district residents.

While school board members appeared at a meeting earlier this fall to leave themselves room to not follow the outcome of the vote, they have also conceded the likely political challenge of doing so.

Veterans, who have organized themselves since the summer and turned out at public meetings, have made it clear they expect the board to follow the will of voters after Tuesday.

Duanesburg Superintendent Christine Crowley has argued that it should not be the school board’s job to cut taxes for one group of residents while increasing taxes on other residents.

But many veterans see the exemption as a small benefit they are more than deserving of — it only applies to wartime, combat and disabled veterans — and one that would help many veterans struggling to get by.

In Duanesburg, the exemption is expected to save wartime veterans around $120, combat veterans $200 and disabled wartime veterans over $400, according to district estimates.

The tax shift — representing roughly $65,000, if the number of veterans enjoying a similar municipal break holds — would be distributed evenly to all taxpayers, increasing their taxes 0.81 percent, or close to $25 more per year for a town of Duanesburg home with an average assessment.

Niskayuna’s proposed $5.6 million project will replace the Van Antwerp Middle School roof and make other improvements across the district. The “health and safety” capital project is timed so new debt payments will replace expiring debt and cause “no tax impact,” school officials said. School taxes will go down if voters reject the project.

The project will include at least some work at all of the district’s eight schools and its Hillside Avenue bus garage. The most expensive item on the project will be a $1.4 million roof replacement at Van Antwerp. Craig and Birchwood elementary schools are also in line for roof replacements, priced at nearly $1 million each.

The rest of the work will be focused on replacing or repairing electrical panels and heating and cooling systems and other immediate maintenance needs.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, zmatson@dailygazette.net or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.