A Vietnam War veteran gave an emotional plea to Hamburg School Board members Tuesday night to urge them to approve a veterans tax exemption.
“Now I’m older, and it’s coming back,” he said of his time in Vietnam, breaking down in tears.
“Any person who went to any war, they don’t come back the same person.”
Three other veterans stood up and walked to his side in support as he wept in the auditorium of Union Pleasant Elementary School.
“Keep in your mind and heart, every vet is hurting,” he said.
“If you cannot make the right decision, how can you tell this young man to go out and defend us?” another veteran said.
The veterans had left the meeting before the board made its decision, approving an exemption that is lower than what Erie County has in place, but the same as some other districts have enacted. Board members said that it was a difficult decision, and they criticized New York State for leaving it up to school districts. The board could have granted any of 10 exemption levels, or none at all.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation in December, 2013 that gives school districts the option of giving combat and wartime veterans property tax exemptions. But any exemption given to veterans must be made up by other taxpayers in the district.
The board action will give an exemption of $6,000 on the house assessment for a wartime veteran and an additional $4,000 for a veteran serving in combat.
a disabled veteran could receive up to $20,000 off an assessment. There are 1,334 veterans in the district already receiving the exemption on county taxes.
District officials said a combat veteran owning a house in the town assessed at $100,000 would save about $180 the school tax bill. Other taxpayers in the town would pay about $26 more in school taxes.
Board President Thomas F. Flynn III said the board was moved by the heartfelt comments of veterans.
“Do I think they deserve something? I absolutely do,” he said.
Board member David M. Yoviene said the board was in a tough position to raise taxes for some residents while lowering them for others.
“We can all say we support veterans,” Vice President Cameron J. Hall said, but he added, “I’m generally not in favor of something that shifts the burden.”
Yoviene and Board Member Laura J. Heeter tried to amend the motion to the same exemption level the county offers, which would have saved Hamburg town combat veterans about $552 and raised taxes for others in the town by about $73. They were the only ones voting for that level.