Pity the poor members of the Duanesburg and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school boards.
They couldn’t win. And it’s the state Legislature’s fault for putting them in that position.
Both school boards recently denied tax exemptions for veterans. The conundrum they faced was that if they granted exemptions for the veterans, they would have to raise other taxpayers’ taxes to make up the difference.
To grant the exemption puts school board members at odds with residents who are already overburdened by high taxes. To not grant the exemption draws the ire of veterans, many of whom are elderly or on fixed incomes and who feel they should be honored for their service with a small break in their property taxes.
There’s nothing wrong with forcing government officials, including school board members, to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. That’s what you sign up for when you accept the burden of public service. You can’t please everybody.
But we have to remember that school board members are often well-intended volunteers from the community with full-time jobs and families, whose sole interest in serving is to make a contribution and to help the kids.
If there’s any way to make their row a bit easier to hoe, our highly paid professional politicians in Albany should do it.
Yet in the case of granting local communities the authority to grant tax exemptions to certain constituent groups, state lawmakers have passed the buck on the unpleasant task of deciding between honoring war veterans and helping local taxpayers.
For $79,500-a-year plus benefits, our state lawmakers — who are demanding a big pay raise, by the way — should deal with this issue themselves.
If they feel such exemptions are worthwhile, they should have to justify that to state taxpayers. If they feel the breaks are too expensive for taxpayers, then they should have the courage to stand up and say that, too — just as they’re forcing local school board members to do.
The decision as to whether to grant property tax breaks for war veterans, Gold Star mothers, senior citizens, volunteer firefighters, EMS workers and others who give back to the community should be made at the state level.
The policy should be consistent and not vary from school district to school district or municipality to municipality.
Is a veteran from Duanesburg or Burnt Hills any less deserving of such a break than a veteran who lives in Johnstown or Schenectady? Is the volunteer firefighters in one town any less valuable to his or her community than the firefighters from the next town over?
Any break could come out of the local tax bill, with the state reimbursing the local boards from the state budget.
We don’t blame veterans in those school districts for being upset about not receiving the tax break, just as we wouldn’t blame taxpayers for being upset in districts where exemptions have been granted.
But if you’re upset, make sure you direct your blame at the right people.
Aim your ire at the state capitol.