The quotes I’m reading from veterans who spoke at the recent Greater Amsterdam School District board meeting trouble me. The issue at hand is whether to enact a property tax exemption for veterans who served in combat, during war time, or are disabled. The exemption will cost the district approximately $360,000.
Veteran Leon Pratt, after questioning the cost of extra-curricular programs such as sports teams and the marching band, said “you always come up with enough money to take care of the kids. And that’s what it’s for, but you wouldn’t even be allowed to have this meeting here tonight if it wasn’t for what these people in this audience did…You’ve got to give the people something back if they served. They deserve something. ”
Quite frankly, this sentiment does not seem consistent with the deeply held sense of self sacrifice and duty to country that I respect and admire in the veterans that I have known.
Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of times I got to talk with my late grandfather Robert Swinton, who served in the South Pacific as an anti-aircraft gunner in World War 2. His accounts of the fear and anger he felt as he faced combat for the first time will be etched in my mind forever. When he returned from war, my grandfather raised six children who went on to have 14 grandchildren and then 15 great-grandchildren, four of whom are in the Amsterdam school district today. A quiet and reserved man, I will remember him as someone who knew the value of investing time and resources in his children. Never did I hear him say “you owe me” or “give me something back.”
Veterans, especially those who served in combat zones or those who are suffering from physical or mental health problems certainly deserve our gratitude and extra help. But the idea that nothing is done for our veterans is simply not true. I, for one, am glad that my tax money goes to fund the health benefits, job training, and other programs that all veterans are eligible for. Combat veterans who own property are already entitled to tax exemptions on their city and county taxes. Veterans also benefit from tax breaks to employers who hire them. There are also numerous other programs on the local and national level that benefit our veterans.
Most recently, mayors from the Capital District joined together to address the problem of homeless veterans. By its very definition, a property tax exemption will do nothing to help veterans who are homeless, the very people who need our assistance the most. There are also known issues with the quality and timeliness of VA healthcare. Again, this is not something a local tax exemption is going to help.
The tax break will cost approximately $360,000 and go to 1,100 area property owning veterans who either served during a time of war, were in combat, or are disabled. The cost will either need to be absorbed by the rest of the tax payers, or by cutting programs and services for kids from the budget. Given the prevailing attitude of keeping taxes down at all costs, it seems more probable to me that programs will be cut rather than taxes increased.
I am all for doing more for veterans who are disadvantaged as a result of their service to our country. I don’t believe this tax exemption will accomplish that. What it will do, however, is place an even greater burden on our school district. I am all for giving something back to our veterans for their service to our country. But let’s not do so at the expense of our children who are the very future of this country that our veterans sacrificed for.