There are still a number of questions to be answered in regard to whether veterans living in the Jamestown Public School district will be receiving an exemption on school taxes next year.
Due to the district's recent eligibility to participate in a veterans exemption program, the board held a public hearing to gather feedback and field questions from community residents before making their ultimate decision prior to the March 1 deadline.
"We want to hear your comments, and wrestle with this and deal with it, and then try to decide what to do concerning this," said Joseph DiMaio, board president.
The public hearing was held prior to the board's regularly scheduled meeting at Washington Middle School. Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration, opened the hearing with a presentation on the fundamentals of the program.
Weatherlow said the program is a new concept for school districts, as the bill that authorizes schools to grant such an exemption for its resident veterans was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December.
"This is fully discretionary," Weatherlow told the board. "This is your decision as to whether or not this exemption is granted."
Weatherlow said there are three possible levels of exemption afforded veterans within the bill: active duty during a period of war, veterans who served in combat zones and individuals who have sustained service-related injuries. The first level would entail an exemption of 15 percent of assessed value not to exceed $12,000, the second entails up to 25 percent of assessed value not to exceed $8,000 and the final level allows up to 50 percent of a veterans disability rating not to exceed $40,000; making for a maximum exemption of 75 percent of assessed value not to exceed $60,000.
"It could be a significant amount of money," Weatherlow said.
Based on the 2013 tax rates, Weatherlow said the exemption would create a 1.17 percent increase in the district's tax levy due to a shift in payment of taxes to those who would not be receiving the exemption. As an example, he said a home value assessment of $50,000 would increase the property's school taxes by $11.53, while a home value assessment of $100,000 would see a tax increase of $23.06.
Lending their questions and thoughts about a veterans exemption were community residents Glen Grabow and Joseph Vaccaro, along with Chautauqua County legislator David Wilfong, R-Jamestown.
Grabow presented the board with a number of questions, one of which centered around whether a veteran is required to be living on the property in question in order to receive the exemption.
"'The alternative veterans exemption is available on a veteran's primary residence,'" Weatherlow said as he read from the law.
Vaccaro, a Vietnam veteran, said the tax increases alluded to in Weatherlow's home assessment value example are minimal and urged the board to keep that in mind when making its decision.
"Mr. Weatherlow said this would create somewhere between a $11 to $23 per year tax increase," Vaccaro said. "If you average that out, it's about $1.26 a month. That's less than a cup of coffee costs anymore, and I hope the board takes that into consideration."
Wilfong read a prepared statement expressing his support for the veterans exemption program.
"I believe it's the responsibility of each and every American to make sure that our service members are taken care of after the sacrifices they have made for our country," Wilfong said. "I hope (the board's) vote is one that will send a message to the community that the Jamestown Public Schools system believes in its veterans of today and tomorrow."
As a veteran himself, DiMaio said he would likely have to recuse himself from the vote to avoid conflict of interest. Having said that, he then expressed his feelings that the veterans exemption program could have been of better use in a different format.
"This is all political to me," DiMaio said. "Personally, I feel it is no less than another unfunded mandate because how are you going to look if you don't do it? And if you do do it, (the state) isn't giving you anything to help you out. A fair thing would have been an income tax credit because then every single veteran, no matter where they are, would have gotten something."
Due to the limited information the board has received on the implementation of the Alternative Veterans Exemption, it was agreed that more research and consideration will be necessary before a decision can be reached. The board is anticipating voting on the matter during its next board meeting, scheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.