Veterans express mixed emotions over optional school tax exemption

Published 02/26 2014 04:55PM

Updated 02/27 2014 12:17AM

Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - By the end of the week, school districts across the state will have to decide if they'll adopt a new tax break for some veterans.

For decades eligible service members who were honorably discharged have enjoyed property tax exemptions through local municipalities. In December, state lawmakers gave school boards the option to include the exemption in school taxes as well.

So far, it appears the state has not offered to help schools make up the loss of revenue. That means non-veteran taxpayers would make up the difference.

The exemptions would add up to as much as 15 percent for those who served in war time and an extra 10 percent break for service in a combat zone. Details for eligibility can be found on the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance website.

Tom Devine, the Jr. Vice for VFW Post 7290 is one of thousands of veterans who may qualify in the North Syracuse Central School District. The district held an information session for taxpayers on Wednesday.

"I don't think I should get to pay any more or any less than any other American. I did what I did, not for the tax benefits, I did it because I love my country,” Devine said.

Legal firm Bond Schoeneck & King calculated the impact for dozens of school districts that are among their clients. In the North Syracuse Central School District - if an estimated 2,800 eligible veterans sign up for the exemption - they predict a drop of taxable value totaling between $500,000 - $800,000.

Non-veterans would pick up the tab, paying an extra $60 to $80 a year for school taxes, according to Bond Schoeneck & King representative Rebecca Speno.

During the information session Robert Fleming told Speno that he moved to Cicero to be closer to the VA Hospital. Like many veterans and taxpayers, he has mixed emotions.

"I think it is great to give back to veterans, because they gave to the country. But, it is also a double-edged sword, because what the veteran doesn't have to take, you've got to give to your neighbor," Fleming said.

Lawmakers passed the law in December, giving school districts until March 1 to make a decision. Speno said most of her school district clients opted to hold off on the exemption until they can gather more information.

"This does pit neighbor against neighbor...and it is a tough situation to understand just what the impact will be," said Rebecca Speno, with Bond Schoeneck & King.

A public hearing will be required before boards can vote. The North Syracuse Central School District Superintendent Annette Speach said she hopes to get more community feedback before the school board makes a decision.

"I don't think it is fair for the school boards," Devine said. "I believe it was very politically motivated. If they really cared about veterans, they would help them in other ways, ie getting the medical treatment they need when they come back from war."

Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.