By Kathleen Duff
Monday evening, a large audience listened to a tax exemption presentation at the Grand Island Board of Education meeting in the high school's Grand Viking Theater. The alternative veterans' tax exemption (RPTL 458-a), signed into law in September 2013 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allows noncombat, combat and disabled wartime veterans a reduction in property taxes. The exemption amount is based on veteran status and reduces school taxes on the primary residence of a veteran, spouse of a veteran or surviving spouse. The audience, comprised of many veterans, participated in a Q&A session after a PowerPoint presentation by Nancy DiLonardo, chief data tax clerk of Erie County Real Property Tax Services.
DiLonardo said the statute requires that local school boards help decide how much will be subtracted from a veteran's assessed property value. While saving veterans money on their school taxes, other area residents would make up the difference in collected school taxes by receiving lower STAR exemptions, including exemptions specifically for senior citizens. DiLonardo indicated that the school district does not have to adopt the exact same veteran exemption formula that the Town of Grand Island or Erie County do.
To enact the veterans' tax exemption, the school board had to open the topic to public discussion. Then, trustees must adopt a resolution that specifies the tax exemption cap levels. Audience members were vocal, urging the board to adopt the most generous levels possible. Kathleen Blake of the local Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 9249 Ladies Auxiliary asked to board to "please give what is right to them (veterans)" because those who serve in the military "risk life and limb." Other people said that the extra dollars that non-vet homeowners would pay in school taxes should seem small compared to the sacrifices military personnel and their families make.
Trustee Glenn Bobeck said that audience comments were well noted. He anticipates the board adopting generous exemption levels outlined in the tax law. Exemptions would apply to the 2016-17 school year.
Jack Burns retiring
In other news, Superintendent of Schools Teresa Lawrence announced the retirement of veteran Transportation Director Jack Burns after 33 years of service to Grand Island Schools. Lawrence and board members alike remarked on Burns' mastery of complicated bus routes and schedules and his vigilance in keeping children safe on their rides to and from school. Burns' retirement is effective June 30, 2015.
In her Superintendent's Report, Lawrence said that the district will spend $920 for a BOCES audit of the district business office. The auditor will investigate how efficient operations are, if there are redundancies in staffing and tasks and where additional revenue sources for the district could originate. The audit comes at a time when many districts are concerned about less money coming from Gov. Cuomo's annual budget and more money being spent out of district reserve accounts to cover the salaries and costs of necessary programs.
Lawrence also said that the district has agreed to spend $600 on striping school athletic fields for the Grand Island Rugby Club. The town will pay for the paint used. Lawrence indicated that there is precedent for the district paying to maintain athletic facilities so that organizations such as the Junior Vikings and other clubs that are not directly school-related could use them. She explained that schools should support such organizations because they provide another outlet for students to participate in worthwhile extracurricular activities.
Finally, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Support Services Robert McDow told board members there is still " a lot of work" - about 20 percent - left in Phase 2 of the district's capital improvement project. He indicated that the goal is to deliver all pieces of the project on time and on budget. Also, in answer to some public complaints about the large snow pile in the front parking lot of Veronica E. Connor Middle School, McDow said that the location and costs associated with the snow were unavoidable. Usually, large amounts of snow are placed at the rear of the Ransom Road complex but could not be this year because of the construction trailers located there.
Citizen of the Year awards April 23
The Grand Island Citizen of the Year Awards Committees is planning the 49th annual awards dinner to recognize individuals and businesses that have given greatly to the community and made it a better place to live, work and play. The Chamber of Commerce is very excited to hold this event at Byblos Niagara Resort & Spa celebrating their new spring menu. Mark your calendars for April 23.
If you know of an individual, organization or business deserving of this award, nominate them by March 6. Nomination forms can be found on the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce website (www.gichamber.org) or at the chamber office, 2257 Grand Island Blvd.