The Saugerties Board of Education voted 8-0 to grant a break on school taxes to veterans at the Feb. 25 board meeting, becoming the first local district to do so following state authorization of the program last December.
Here’s how it works: Starting next year, veterans will be eligible for a reduction in the taxable value of 15 percent, up to $12,000. (The vast majority would take the $12,000 deduction, as it applies for any home worth over $80,000.) For example, a veteran who owns a home assessed at $200,000 would pay taxes as if the home were assessed at $188,000. Combat veterans will receive an additional ten percent or $8,000 off, and veterans who have suffered a combat-related disability will receive an additional exemption of up to $40,000 depending upon their disability rating.
The exemption applies to primary residences. For the 1,036 veterans already enrolled in similar town, village and county tax exemptions, enrollment in the new school tax exemption will be automatic. The deadline for new exemptions is March 3. Contact the assessor’s office at town hall (246-2800) to inquire.
At a public hearing prior to the board’s vote, several veterans took the opportunity to remind trustees of the costs associated with serving the country. Kevin Pendergast spoke about the high rate of suicide among returning veterans, and urged the board to “acknowledge the great sacrifices” made by those in uniform. Joseph Hernandez said that coming back from combat is “tough,” and that veterans tend to be a “silent group.”
Although there was not a large crowd of veterans present at the hearing (about 25), Hernandez asked that the board not look at the size of the crowd and assume that there weren’t a greater number hurting. Veteran Joe Bisignano attributed the small turnout to the fact that most of Saugerties veterans were in their 70s or 80s, making it difficult to get to the hearing.
There were no dissenting voices, though Village Board Trustee Terry Parisian asked that the board take care to “do your homework” (regarding the fiscal impact). Parisian did, however, say that he was in favor of approving the exemption because of the great service veterans have provided.
Members of the School Board, too, had questions about the impact of approving the exemption. Vice President Thomas Ham asked what the cost would be to the average taxpayer.
Business Manager Lissa Jilek and Town Assessor Frank Orlando tried to answer that question, but Jilek admitted that was like “trying to nail jello to the wall,” since any figure she provided was based on this year’s tax numbers and several assumptions. According to Jilek’s calculations, and assuming that there is no increase in overall assessed value, the exemption would represent a 0.73 percent shift to the other taxpayers. That amounts to a $13.91 annual increase per $100,000 of assessed value.
In the end, the board, with the exception of President George Heidcamp, who abstained due to his status as a veteran, voted unanimously to pass the exemption. The decision was greeted with applause from the veterans in attendance.