Local veterans who attended a public hearing and vote by the Onteora District Board of Education on a school tax exemption for war veterans on February 20 at Bennett Intermediate School, walked away assuming it was approved by majority vote. With only five of seven trustees present due to a previous weather-related postponement, the vote in favor of granting the exemption was 3-1, with one abstention. However, school policy and state law require a majority of four on a seven member board to approve any measure, regardless of how many trustees are attending. The following day, after speaking with legal counsel, school officials declared the vote had failed.
A hearing and re-vote has been rescheduled for Thursday, February 27 (too late for the results to be posted in this edition) at the Middle/High School auditorium in order to meet a state mandated deadline of March 1, for the exemption to take effect for the 2014/2015 school year. If the board misses the March 1 deadline, it can only re-vote for the 2015/2016 school year.
If approved, war veterans in the district can benefit from tax relief — with other local taxpayers picking up the cost. It was estimated that passing the measure could save veterans $515,102 but lead to an increase of $5 per $100,000 on equalized assessed property value for other district residents. The idea came from the state in January. Vets already receive similar exemptions from county property taxes.
With trustees Micheal McKeon and Dan Spencer absent, board members Tom Hickey, Ann McGillicuddy and Rob Kurnit voted in favor, Tony Fletcher voted no, and Laurie Osmond abstained, noting that she lacked information to make a sound decision.
Even though split on a decision, trustees blasted New York State, complaining that this is yet another example of a responsibility that the State should be dealing with, instead of a volunteer board. “Are we really doing due diligence to our tax payers by having just one public hearing on an unscheduled night without a full board?” said Osmond. “I’m concerned about that because we want to make sure we communicated well to our entire district tax-payers.”
Fletcher pointed out that the state school board association (NYSSBA) recommended against the measure. “We’re caught between a rock and a hard place here because we want to be very supportive, but I think that NYSSBA makes that point as well, that this has been pushed on us…” said Fletcher.
Assistant Superintendent Victoria McLaren said nearby school districts have taken different steps to address the tax change. “Kingston has scheduled their hearing for March 19, Wallkill is referring the issue to their audit committee to be reviewed in March, Highland is not acting on this resolution at this time.” The Saugerties school board became the first in the county to pass the exemption at it’s February 25 meeting. McLaren said that Rondout has a hearing on February 28, and New Paltz was scheduled for a hearing on February 26.