BY CHERYL SLAVIN
At a special meeting on February 24, the North Rockland Central School Board unanimously voted in favor of extending a school tax exemption to eligible North Rockland veteran homeowners. Also known as the Alternative Veterans Exemption, this break on school taxes is as a result of a 2013 amendment to a New York State law which has allowed for similar exemptions for municipal taxes since 1984.
“Every member of the board present spoke in favor of the exemption,” says Harry LeFevre, board president. “We are all aware of the service that veterans have given to our country.”
Since 1984 veterans who have served during wartime have been eligible for municipal property tax exemptions that range from 15 percent of the assessed value of the home for most eligible vets to up to a slightly higher amount for disabled veterans. A 2013 bill amended New York State Real Property Tax Law §458-a(2)(d)(i) to include school taxes, noting that in 2011 one in seven homeless adults were veterans, and that an additional 1.5 million were at risk of becoming homeless because of poverty, lack of adequate support systems and current poor housing conditions for many. “Government at both the state and federal level should do everything it can to change this,” the bill declared. The partial school tax exemption was aimed at ameliorating the situation.
According to LeFevre, the school board had considered voting on the exemption last year, but missed the deadline to do so. With this year’s March 1 registration deadline looming, the board called a special meeting to hold a public hearing on the matter. Superintendent Ileana Eckert gave a short power point presentation. About 50 to 60 people came, the majority of which, LeFevre said, were veterans. All of the public speakers supported adopting the exemption.
The one drawback associated with the exemption, LeFevre admitted, is that it is not subsidized in any way by the state. Therefore, school districts who opt to offer the tax break to veterans must increase the burden on the rest of the taxpaying property owners. The school board is aware, he said, that this will have an especially serious impact on North Rockland homeowners because the burden has already shifted considerably since the Mirant tax certiorari settlement. Fifteen years ago homeowners bore about 35 percent of the total tax levy. While the levy in the past few years has not significantly increased, homeowners now carry about 65 percent of the burden, and taxes have increased accordingly.
Jim Johnston, North Rockland Assistant Superintendent for Business, states that the total veterans exemption is about six/tenth of one percent of the total tax burden in the district. This translates to an average additional payment for Haverstraw homeowners of about $30, and for Stony Point about $47.50. He cautions that the numbers will vary according to value of the home and yearly changes in assessment. The larger number for Stony Point is a reflection of the generally higher home values in that town.
LeFevre reports that so far the feedback he has received from the public has been supportive. The response on social media has been mixed, however, with some members of the community posting on Facebook in favor of the exemption and others voicing concern about the increase in taxes and for the rest of the property owners.
North Rockland is not alone in the county to pass a veterans exemption. Clarkstown and South Orangetown now also offer this tax break. Clarkstown estimates that its homeowners will pay an additional 44 to 73 dollars per year to cover the cost. Other districts in Westchester and Putnam Counties have also instated the exemption.