A tax break for veterans hit a wall at a pair of local school districts Tuesday night – as the Duanesburg school board rejected the break and the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school board split on the issue.
By a vote of 6 to 1, Duanesburg school board members codified a community advisory vote last week on whether to adopt the Alternative Veterans Exemption – a break on school taxes for wartime veterans.
Last week, district voters opposed the tax break 276 to 269 on a public advisory vote. Veterans and other supporters argued the wording on the ballot question tilted against the tax break, because it could confuse voters since it said the break would reduce a eligible veteran’s home assessed value by thousands of dollars – saving them between $120 and $400 on school taxes and costing the rest of the district’s taxpayers an average of $25 more per year.
Duanesburg schools officials – and school board members in other districts – have argued the tax break, approved a few years ago by state lawmakers, unfairly pits school boards against veterans on issue unrelated to education.
In Burnt Hills, a resolution to adopt the exemption failed to muster enough support for approval, but it didn’t face the same resounding defeat as in Duanesburg. Two Burnt Hills school board members voted to approve the break, two voted against it, one abstained and two were not present for the meeting.
James Maughan, who voted against the tax break, said federal and state lawmakers were “too weak to face the serious veteran issues directly” and passed helping veterans over to school boards. He said the tax break was bad long-term policy and diminished local control and resistance to unfunded mandates.
“This is really 100 percent political,” he said. “It’s not going to help one struggling student, it’s not going to create one opportunity, it’s not going to pay for one teacher; it’s really got nothing to do with the board’s responsibility to provide a good education for our students.”
But board member Will Farmer said approving the tax break would be a “sign of respect” to show veterans that the district supports them with more than just words.
“We have been given this opportunity, and it is a local decision,” Farmer said. “It is something that we can be proud of that we support them, because to support them at an event is different than to support them this way.”
Burnt Hills could bring the issue back up when the other board members are present.