March 5, 2014 —
ELDRED, NY — The five members of the board of the Eldred Central School District voted unanimously to grant tax credits for veterans who live in the district. Veterans have been able to obtain tax credits from towns and counties for about the past decade, and last December Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided that the credits could be extended to include school taxes, but each district must decide whether to grant them.
Initially, it seemed that the board was moving toward putting the question to a voter referendum, because other taxpayers in the town will have to make up any shortfall in total tax revenue created by the veterans’ breaks. The district business manager, Cheryl Gross, said that tax increases for non-veteran residents in the Town of Highland would amount to about 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Therefore the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $36 more in taxes to offset the veterans’ tax credits.
All of the board members expressed support for the veterans, but because the vote would impact all taxpayers in the towns of Higland, Lumberland and parts of Deer Park and Tusten, some members thought the district’s voters should have a chance to weigh in. Board member Amador LaPut said, “The whole tax base should have a say,” and three other members expressed similar views, saying they thought the community should decide the question.
But during the public hearing on the matter, a veteran named Andy Valenti said, “The question is at what point would it be OK? If the estimate was reduced by $1.25, is that enough to change your ‘no’ vote or your indecisive vote, into a ‘yes’ vote? If it was $5.62, is that enough to make your mind different? At what point, in the reduction, can you say our service was worthwhile.”
A couple of board members said, “That’s not what we’re saying….”
Valenti and a couple other members of the audience said, “But that’s what you are saying.”
The board moved onto other subjects then came back to vote on the tax-credit question near the end of the meeting. When board president Douglas Reiser asked for board discussion, member Carol Bliefernich said, “I think the arguments were well stated and very well done, and I was swayed… by the attendance and also because I couldn’t be more grateful for the service” the veterans provide for the country.
Reiser said Valenti’s remarks swayed him. He said to the veteran, “When you got up and said, ‘How little does it have to cost in order to be acceptable’… to quantify something like that, to me I was like, ‘Yeah, what the hell are we talking about here?’”
All five members were swayed and all voted yes.
After the meeting, Peter Carmeci, commander of the Tusten-Highland-Lumberland VFW Post, said he was not surprised by the turnaround, because he knew the board wanted to do the right thing. He also said that the district had become the first in Sullivan County to accept the tax credit, though some in other counties have already done so.
The deadline for accepting the credits, so that they are in place for tax bills that are due in September, was March 1.