Crowd shows up to support school tax breaks for vets

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03/26/2014 2:00 PM |
Close to 40 people, including many local veterans, came out in support of a measure to allow tax breaks for veterans in Riverhead School Districts. (Credit: Jen Gustavson)

Last year, the state Legislature approved an amendment to expand the veterans’ tax exemption program to school districts, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in December.. (Credit: Jen Gustavson)

“When I came home from Vietnam, I couldn’t even get a cab when I was in my uniform. This is a chance, I believe, for the school board to really do the right thing for veterans.”

That’s what Ira Friedband, a Vietnam War veteran and Hampton Bays resident, had to say during Riverhead’s school board meeting Tuesday night about a measure that would grant school tax exemptions for local veterans. Mr. Friedband was one of more than 40 people who attended the meeting.

While property tax exemptions for veterans have been in effect statewide since the 1980s, they have until now only been applied to the county and town’s portion of a veteran’s tax bill. Last year, the state Legislature approved an amendment to expand the program to school districts, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in December.

Exemption benefits include a reduction of up to 15 percent in assessed value for veterans who served during a time of war and an additional 10 percent reduction in assessed value for veterans who served in combat zones, according to the legislation. Disabled veterans with war-related injuries are also eligible for additional tax reductions.

Since the district is split between different townships, assessors from Riverhead and Southampton Towns were on hand Tuesday to give a joint presentation about how the new Alternative Veterans’ Exemption works. School officials said Brookhaven Town Assessor James Ryan wasn’t able to attend.

Southold and Shoreham-Wading River are the only local school districts to have adopted the exemption before March 1 in time for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Ms. Goree said six out of the 13 school districts in Southampton Town have adopted the exemption.

If Riverhead decides to approve it before next year’s deadline, the exemption will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year. Once a school district approves the new exemption, homeowners will have to make up the loss in revenue from the school district’s portion of property taxes.

Although school boards are able to consider varying exemption amounts, the assessors’ presentation focused on the “basic maximum” exemption — the largest exemption option offered.

“Taxes [in Riverhead Town] would go up 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value,” Ms. Tennenberg said.

She added that the current estimate is based on last year’s assessed values, the tax levy and the equalization rate.

There are 1,700 parcels within the Riverhead Town portion of the district that are eligible for the exemption, Ms. Tennenberg said. About 260 veterans live on the Southampton Town side, said Ms. Goree, who added that taxes would increase 8 cents per $1,000 assessed value.

“There’s no straightforward calculation,” said Sam Schneider, school district assistant superintendent of business. “You need to determine what your specific parcel value is; what your specific expectation would be relative to that value.”

The exemption is only permitted for veterans who served in the military during a “period of war,” which the presenters defined as: World War II (Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946); the Korean War (June 27, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955), the Vietnam War (Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975), and the Persian Gulf Conflict (on or after Aug. 2, 1990).

Ms. Tennenberg said lawmakers did not include veterans who served during the Cold War and that legislation is in the works to make them eligible for the exemption, too.

“We as Americans have come a long way in how we treat veterans,” said Mr. Friedband.

Residents questioned whether the decision could be presented to the community through a public vote, but school officials confirmed the exemption could only be passed through an action by the Board of Education.

Vietnam veteran John Miglionico and Korean War veteran Chris Saccoccia, both of Riverhead, said Tuesday they were pleased with the meeting’s turnout and understand the complications concerning the exemption, since the district is split between different townships.

“They were straightforward and did a good job,” Mr. Saccoccia said of the presentation.

Close to 40 people, including many local veterans, came out in support of a measure to allow tax breaks for veterans in Riverhead School Districts. (Credit: Jen Gustavson)

Close to 40 people, including many local veterans, came out in support of a measure to allow tax breaks for veterans in Riverhead School Districts. (Credit: Jen Gustavson)