After much consideration, the Jamestown Public Schools Board of Education has elected to refrain from voting on the Alternate Veterans Exemption for the 2014-15 school year.
On Tuesday, the board heard from four community veterans, each of whom spoke in favor of the exemption, before making the decision to take another year to gather information on the program.
The veterans' exemption program was recently made available to school districts after it was signed into law in December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, although it is already offered by both the city of Jamestown and Chautauqua County. 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.
If instituted, the exemption would have created a 1.17 percent increase in the upcoming tax levy in addition to what would eventually be built into the 2014-15 JPS budget.
The four veterans to address the board at its most recent board meeting were Louis Racitano, Roger Galbraith, John Thompson and Gerald White. Each veteran said a school tax exemption would be most welcome to those who are struggling with finances and exorbitant tax rates.
"I think this is a great opportunity, especially for young families, to have a good tax break to help them get along," White said.
"The taxes in these areas are ridiculous, and anything you can give to veterans would be greatly appreciated," said Thompson, a 20-year Navy veteran. "It's not only something you can give back to your veterans, but it also makes economic sense to me. Most of the veterans coming back home now are going to be younger and have families. We want to have a community here that is bringing back a lot of younger families. And we want them to stay in this area, we want them to stay in Jamestown and we want them to go to our schools. Giving these veterans a tax break can only help our area."
In a show of transparency, various board members voiced their opinions on the matter and provided their rationale for postponing the decision for another year.
"I'm all for this, actually, but I think it's got to go into the overall budget discussion. We've got to reduce our spending to cover the veterans," said Thomas Pope.
"I find it quite political that the governor would propose something that absolutely seems like a great idea at a glance; but, in reality, it's just displacing the burden from the state and putting it on the districts to make the decision to either be the bad guy or support the governor in this proposal," Paul Abbott said. "I think the wiser path would be to see how this budget goes, see how we stand and maybe this is something we can revisit in the future."
Joseph DiMaio, board president, said he would recuse himself from voting as a veteran who would benefit from the exemption, but did not withhold his opinion.
"If the state would have wanted to be fair to veterans, they would have given an income tax credit and not done this," he said. "If you are a veteran who doesn't own a home, you get no relief. If you rent, you get no relief. If you are in assisted living, you get no relief. I would personally recommend that we wait and see. This may be something that the state will look at and correct. And we can adopt this later. The problem would be that it wouldn't help this year's tax roll."
In other business, the board adopted a resolution to do away with the New York State Grade 8 Mathematics Assessment as a required examination of student assessment in their understanding of Common Core Learning Standards curricula. Under the new system, the Regents Examination in algebra 1 is now recognized as the primary assessment of the standards.
Tim Mains, superintendent, said the resolution served as a means of reducing unnecessary testing.
"The eighth-grade test was manifest because that was a part of No Child Left Behind," Mains explained. "Now, students have to take the algebra Regents. The state has applied for and secured a waiver, saying, 'This can count, but it's permissive.' So, we can do it, but now it's up to individual districts to decide if they want to do that. This resolution says, 'Yes, that is what we want to do.'"
The board also agreed to reschedule upcoming regular meetings for March 11 and March 25.