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Katonah-Lewisboro Board Seeks Public Input On Veterans' Tax Exemptions

Goldens Bridge resident and Iraq War veteran Christopher Rust speaks during public comment. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons speaks during public comment at the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board's meeting. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Bob Castelli, Goldens Bridge resident and ex-state Assemblyman, speaks during public comment. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. -- After much discussion at its Jan. 8 meeting, Katonah-Lewisboro School Board members agreed on how to solicit public input regarding the potential adoption of veterans' property tax exemptions.

The school district will send out a public notice announcing the process. The district also plans to release an online survey to gauge public opinion and the school board plans on holding public hearings.

Michael Jumper, the district's assistant superintendent for business, presented a detailed financial analysis and series of estimates at the board's Jan. 8 meeting. Three exemptions are available, he said, all of which can be applied cumulatively depending on the veteran's circumstances. The first is for wartime veterans, the second is for wartime veterans who also served in combat, while the third is for disabled wartime veterans.

The exemptions each have cap amounts tied to proportions of the property's full-market value. The state's legislation has default cap amounts, which the board can lower or raise. For the first exemption, the range is from $6,000 to $54,000, with the state default being $12,000. The second exemption ranges from $4,000 to $36,000 and has an $8,000 state default. The third exemption is from $20,000 to $180,000 and has a $40,000 default.

The board is considering the default exemption levels provided for by state law, although it is open to public feedback.

Under the state-default caps, veterans in Lewisboro and Bedford would save an estimated $267 with the first exemption, $455 with the second added on and $1,335 if they receive all three. The respective amounts under the maximum caps are just more than $1,200, a little more than $2,000 and slightly above $6,000. There are single-digit variations in the amounts for Lewisboro and Bedford.

However, giving exemptions to veterans would mean shifting the district's tax burden to non-veterans. Approximately $150,000 of the levy is estimated to be shifted under the default caps, while the figure is believed to be about $650,000 for the maximum amounts.

Trustee Richard Stone, a Vietnam War veteran, suggested a public referendum in conjunction with the May budget vote but the idea failed to gain traction. Officials including Jumper and Board President Marjorie Schiff expressed concern because of the towns' tax-assessment deadlines and because of historically negative opinions by the state's education commissioner toward advisory votes.

The board agreed to consider extending exemptions to Gold Star parents, meaning those whose children were killed in the line of duty, and for veterans who hold shares in co-operative residences.

Trustee Stephanie Tobin cast doubt on including Gold Star parents, asking what the difference is between losing a child in their situation and under other circumstances. Former state Assemblyman Bob Castelli, a Vietnam veteran and Goldens Bridge resident, said during public comment the difference is a child of Gold Star parents volunteered to go into service for his country and go off to war. Tobin subsequently apologized in a Lewisboro Ledger letter.

Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons urged further consideration of the maximum level.

“This is not a poor community and the highest burden will fall on the wealthier people.”

Goldens Bridge resident and Iraq War veteran Christopher Rust praised Gold Star families in his public remarks.

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