Red Hook, Rhinebeck delay decisions on new school tax exemptions for vets

Schools across the area are grappling with new state legislation that allows them this year to offer school tax exemptions to veterans.

While the Hyde Park school district is actively considering adding a veterans’ exemption this year, both the Rhinebeck and Red Hook school districts are holding off their decisions, citing time as the key factor.

Unlike STAR exemptions, school tax exemptions for veterans would not be state funded. Instead, the amount exempted would be paid for by the rest of the taxpayers in the district. The bill was co-sponsored by State Senator Terry Gipson and was signed into law Dec. 18.

Veterans are already eligible for town and county property tax exemptions under three separate categories, and the school exemption would follow the rules for the first of those categories, called the alternative veterans exemption. It applies to those veterans who served during a designated time of war, or who received an expeditionary medal.

Rhinebeck Superintendent Joe Phelan said timing was a factor in the Rhinebeck school board’s decision to hold off a decision about the exemption for another year.

“The timeline is really pretty tight, from when the legislation was approved and signed — I think was literally a week before the holidays — to our getting the information on this from our legal counsel in mid-January, to our doing some research so we had some pretty good information on what we were considering, to this meeting,” he said at the Feb. 11 school board meeting.

He added that school boards were required to decide whether to offer the exemptions by Feb. 28.

Of the approximately 6,000 properties that pay taxes to Rhinebeck, around 450 are owned by veterans, according to Assistant Superintendent Tom Burnell.

School Board President Deirdre Burns also said that because of the tight schedule the board would have had to hold a hearing and vote for adoption in the next meeting. She felt this wouldn’t be enough time for the community to get involved.

Also, the Finance Committee for the board recommended holding off any decision until they could determine what the impact would be on the rest of the property owners.

“While everybody has sympathy and appreciation for veterans and wanting to lessen their burden … there seems, at least to us, to be something not quite right about the idea of helping out one group of people by burdening another,” board member and finance committee member Lisa Rosenthal said at the meeting.

Phelan pointed out that the board could also look at similar exemptions for senior citizens, other than the state-backed STAR ones.

Red Hook’s school board will also delay a decision on whether to offer the veterans’ exemption until after this year’s deadline.

Board President Kelly Mosher told the Observer that the school board is “deeply appreciative” of veterans’ service, but a decision to offer the exemption was too complicated to make by March 1.

“Perhaps the most significant issue involved in offering the Veteran’s Property Tax Exemption is how to measure the impact to the remaining taxpayers, since the savings for veterans that is created by the exemption would be shifted as an additional burden to those who do not receive the exemption,” she said.

She added, “In order that all voices can be fully heard on this issue, we plan to take the additional time necessary for that discussion to occur. We hope to conclude those discussions and reach a final decision on this matter over the next few months.”

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