The Wantagh Board of Education decided to grant property tax exemptions for district residents who have served their country.
The school board unanimously approved a resolution at its March 13 meeting permitting the veteran tax breaks. The board’s action comes on the heels of a bill signed by Andrew Cuomo late last year allowing districts to give veterans a property tax exemption ranging from 10 to 15 percent. Previously, the veteran’s exemption only applied to county and town taxes.
“The service that they gave to their country we are thankful for that and it is our pleasure to grant that exemption,” said Michael Soethout, president of the Wantagh school board. “Wantagh does have a very active veterans community.”
The new approved tax exemptions will result in an average tax increase of $35 for non-veterans, according to district officials. The exemptions, which will impact 18 combat veterans, 209 non-combat veterans and 275 veterans on disability, go into effect for the 2014/15 school year since the board approved them prior to a March 14 state deadline.
Many school boards across the state are unsure of the veteran exemptions since homeowners need to make up the difference for the loss of revenue. Other area school boards who have approved veteran exemption measure include North Bellmore, Levittown, Island Trees and Freeport. The Seaford School District opted not to address the exemptions and wants more clarity on the law's impact before proceeding.
Nearly seven in 10 school board members surveyed by the New York School Boards Association (NYSSBA) earlier this year (69 percent) indicated they oppose the Veteran exemptions.
“School board members strongly support our veterans, but they, believe that reimbursement for the veteran’s exemption should be covered by the state rather than by other local taxpayers,” NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement. “The law as is presents school boards with a dilemma. If they adopt the exemption, that would increase taxes for other taxpayers in their district. If they do not adopt the exemption, they could be viewed as not being supportive of veterans.”
John Sottnik, third vice commander for Wantagh American Legion Post 1273, estimates that the new exemptions approved by the board will account for around a $500 savings on a veteran’s property taxes depending on their home’s assessed value.
“The passage of this bill in Wantagh is a real recognition of our veterans and their families who have served and sacrificed to both preserve and foster the American dream of democracy and freedom,” said Sottnik, who served during the Iraq War in 2006. “As a combat veteran it's good to see our community recognize veterans and this is a great example to our children who will become the next generation, who will inevitably be called to defend our nation and way of life as we live in an era of persistent conflict.”