By Larry Austin
The Board of Education will hold another public information session regarding a proposed alternative tax exemption for veterans when it meets at 7:30 p.m. in the Huth Road Elementary School auditorium Monday, March 23.
A tax exemption would offer a break on a veteran's property taxes, which would be made up by non-veteran property taxpayers. The state allows the school board to offer one of 14 levels of exemptions. Trustees Monday voiced support for putting the exemption up for a referendum, possibly at the district budget vote and trustee election in May.
Before the Board of Education's regular order of business Monday, March 9, at Grand Island High School, three members of the public spoke in support of the district offering a veterans' exemption.
Kathleen Blake, current Erie County Council VFW Ladies Auxiliary president, spoke in favor, "Hoping the board will do the right thing." She called it a small amount of money non-veteran residents would be asked to pay and reminded the board that veterans served their country and continue to serve the community after their service, raising money for scholarships, sponsorships of youth activities and charities.
Alan Lee, a 1966 GIHS graduate and Grand Island VFW past post commander, said veterans organizations on the Island give more than what they receive though their fundraisers, "Because you can't put a price tag on the volunteer services that we do."
He noted also that the number of veterans is declining. "I'm here to urge the board members to push for the A-level of benefits, as the number of these qualifying persons will be lower as time goes on," he said.
Randy Kujawa said he was drafted and served in the jungles of Vietnam where some of his comrades suffered serious injuries. He pointed out that many who were drafted suffered not only a physical but a financial setback while in the service. He said he made $60 a week, or 35 cents an hour, for putting his life on the line, while those who did not serve had greater earning power and are today financially more secure. Veterans were pulled out in the draft and had no choice: "They deserve a break," he said.
District Assistant Superintendent of Finance Robert McDow explained the options to the board, including a spreadsheet detailing the financial impact of each exemption level on a typical homeowner with a $180,000, the average home value on Grand Island. He offered one caveat to the board: the higher level chosen, the greater impact on the tax cap.
McDow said level C is the most popular level chosen by school districts and would, had it been in effect in the 2014-15 year, have provided a $175 tax break for Island veterans, made up by a $21 increase for non-veterans.