Board hears from veterans on tax exemption proposal

The Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education held a well attended public hearing on the Alternative Veteran’s Exemption Act prior to Wednesday’s regular meeting. Superintendent Thomas Perillo highlighted details of the exemption which he first related to the board in October. A resolution on the exemption was not on the agenda for the evening’s meeting.

Approximately 1,100 veterans living in Amsterdam would be eligible for a tax exemption if the school district chose to adopt the policy. That is equal to ten percent of the taxable land parcels in Amsterdam, which account for $360,000 collected by the district.  If an exemption were adopted by the district, that amount would have to be made up by other tax payers, which would lead to an average increase of $35 per year for all other parcels in the district based on the current year’s tax rate.

The exemption is broken up into three tiers based on service. Veterans who served during a time of war would be eligible for a $12,000 reduction off of the full assessed value of their parcel under tier one. Veterans who served in a combat zone would be eligible for a $20,000 reduction under tier two. Veterans who were disabled during wartime would be eligible for a $40,000 reduction under tier three. Perillo then opened the floor to public comment.

Army veteran Leon Pratt said, “How much is it going to cost us, or did it cost us to form a new lacrosse team? How much is it going to cost us to supply new uniforms for the band? How much is it going to cost us for chaperones at all our sports games? You know that’s got to be figured, and 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. They gave you the freedom to have your meeting. They fought for your freedoms.”

Pratt noted that there was a cost to the exemption, but that it was worth the price, saying, “You’ve got to give the people something back if they served. They deserve something. Unfortunately, the amounts are kind of high. I agree with you. But they deserve something; they earned it.”

Veteran Ted Fiorillo voiced his feeling that veterans are not given enough recognition, saying, “As a veteran, I feel that we’re not appreciated enough. We have sacrificed. We take our time, our life, and our hardship to protect this country, so it’s safe and free.”

Fiorillo went on to say, “You have to do more for veterans. Now I’m not asking that veterans not have to pay any taxes. But I think we should get a tax exemption. That’s admirable. That warrants some merit.”

When going over resolutions for the evening’s meeting, Board President Kent McHeard asked when the board could expect to see a resolution on the Veteran’s Act Tax Exemption. Superintendent Perillo said, “Whenever the board decides to act on that, it wouldn’t take effect until the 16-17 school year. So there’s really no sense in trying to rush into it.”

He went on to say, “There has been numerous calls into the office about the Veteran’s Act Exemption, I’m assuming that the board will probably be hearing from some of our public maybe on the other side as well. So to be fair, even if it was approved tonight, it wouldn’t go into effect until the 16-17 school year.”

McHeard responded, “I understand. I don’t think it would be rushing to a decision based on the fact that we’ve been talking about it. I think that we should see a resolution fairly soon. I wouldn’t suggest we see a resolution tonight. But I heard the discussion from the veterans; I hear discussions around the table that we do so little for our veterans. We do so little for them. This is the least that we could do in supporting veterans.”

Board member Peter Pritchard requested a briefing on the state law, saying “I think we need to fundamentally understand what does it look like if we do say ‘yes’ or we do say ‘no.’ What does that mean for the school district itself.”  Other members of the board agreed that they would like additional information on the provisions and the financial implications of the exemption.

School business manager Kim Brumley said that she would work with local assessors to come up with representative examples of how the exemption would affect individual veterans and individual taxpayers. Pritchard said that the information would be helpful, as “Everyone’s going to ask the question ‘What does it mean to me?’, and I think that’s really a fundamental and a valid question.”

Ashley Onyon

Ashley Onyon is a graduate of the journalism program at SUNY Albany. She has contributed articles to The Mohawk Valley Independent and the annual journal Upstream.