Duanesburg school district voters by a narrow margin Tuesday dealt a blow to a tax break for wartime veterans.
Voters opposed offering the Alternative Veterans Exemption — estimated to save eligible veterans between $120 and $400 — by just seven votes on a public advisory vote Tuesday evening. The final tally was 276 against the exemption to 269 for it, according to the district.
The exemption would increase taxes slightly for non-exempt district residents.
But the school board still plans to vote on a formal resolution that would adopt the exemption at next week’s board meeting, board President Dirk Felton said after Tuesday’s vote. And some veterans, who argued the wording of the ballot question and informational material was biased against the exemption, may still press the board to adopt the break.
“We are certainly going to put the resolution on the next agenda, so the board members can vote on it one way or another,” Felton said. He added that he was “not terribly in favor” of the exemption and worried that it could have long-term consequences that are not entirely foreseeable.
Art Crandall, a veteran who helped organize the push in favor of the exemption, said he felt the wording on the ballot question might have confused voters and turned people against the examption. Although the exemption eliminates a portion of a veteran’s total home assessed value — in some cases up to $20,000 — the actual tax savings would have been in the hundreds of dollars.
The ballot question described how much veterans would have saved on their assessed values. Crandall said some voters might have thought veterans were in line to save thousands of dollars in actual taxes.
“I’ve said all along … and a lot of people brought up the way it was worded discouraged the non-veteran from voting for it,” Crandall said, citing the assessed value reduction. “That leads everyone to believe the veteran could get up to $20,000 off and that’s not the truth.”
Crandall and other veterans had said at earlier meetings that they would accept the outcome of the public advisory vote. After Tuesday’s vote, Crandall sounded a different tune, pointing to what he considered unfair wording.
“I feel that it wasn’t fair, and I’m not quite sure I want to live with the outcome,” Crandall said. “I can see myself being involved with this at least one more time around.”
School board members during earlier meetings left themselves wiggle room to go against the outcome of the advisory vote, calling it another piece of information. In October, board member Deborah Grier said: “It doesn’t need to be the decision-maker.”
While holding an advisory vote to gauge public interest in the veterans exemption is not unprecedented — voters in Wynantskill supported the exemption in May — most districts in the region that have adopted the exemption do so without a public vote. Even with the public vote, the school board would still need to adopt a resolution establishing the exemption.
In Duanesburg, the exemption was expected to save veterans from around $120 to as much as $400, depending on whether the veteran served in combat and suffered from a service-related disability.
The tax shift to non-exempt district residents — representing roughly $65,000, if the number of veterans enjoying a similar municipal break holds — would be distributed evenly among all taxpayers, increasing their taxes 0.81 percent, or close to $25 more per year for a town of Duanesburg home with an average assessment.
The back-and-forth over the veterans exemption has caused heartburn both for school officials that argue the issue falls outside their core mission of educating kids and veterans that have had to repeatedly make the case that their service merits the tax break.
At one point, district officials said they were rethinking whether to hold the public vote at all because they thought the tax impact for residents would vary dramatically from one town to the next. They later said they had misunderstood the way the exemption worked and said the tax shift would be distributed evenly to taxpayers.