Saranac Lake school board weighs tax exemption for veterans

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake school board is weighing whether to give tax breaks to veterans who live in the district.

Under a state law signed in December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, school districts across New York can authorize partial property tax exemptions for military veterans. The state left it up to school boards whether to adopt resolutions to provide the exemptions.

The exemption includes 15 percent reductions in assessed value for veterans who served during a time of war, another 10 percent for those who were in combat zones, and an additional reduction for service-connected disabilities.

Dan Bower, the Saranac Lake school district’s assistant superintendent for business, distributed information about the exemption to the school board Wednesday night. In the past, the so-called Alternative Veteran’s Exemption only applied to county, town and village taxes, Bower wrote in a letter to the board.

“This exemption is not reimbursed by the state and, therefore, represents a tax shift from one group of taxpayers to another within our district,” Bower wrote. “Another interesting facet of this exemption is that it can be granted at different ‘levels’ by different municipalities, which can further impact the amount of taxes being shifted.”

Bower provided estimates of what it would cost to provide a level “H” veterans exemption, which is what most local municipalities provide, based on the number of veterans who live in the school district. The resulting loss of tax revenue would be $29,000 in the Essex County side of the district and $92,000 on the Franklin County side, for a total of $121,000. Tax rates for property owners in the district would increase between 1 and 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, depending the town they live in, all other things being equal.

“Shouldn’t this go to the voters?” asked board member Shir Filler. “I mean, I would want to vote on this as a taxpayer, not just a board member.”

“Because it is shifting all those costs to the other taxpayers,” added board President Debra Lennon.

Board member Katie Fischer asked if other districts in the region are considering enacting the exemption. Bower said none have done so yet because the law is so new, but he said business officers in other districts are putting together the same kind of information.

The exemption is not mandated, so Bower said it’s up to the board whether it wants to move forward. No decision was made Wednesday night. In his letter, Bower said there is a March 1 deadline for adopting a resolution and notifying the counties.

“I am not providing this information to either endorse or argue against opting into this exemption option,” Bower wrote. “I just want you to have the facts and estimates to the degree that they are known at this point in time.”