Written by Chris Boyle Wednesday, 05 March 2014 00:00
A long-standing legal battle with Nassau County and local area schools has finally come to an end, as revealed at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Herricks School District Board of Education.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Bierwirth gave an update on the lawsuit Nassau school districts had leveled against the county regarding tax certiorari refunds; the county had attempted to shift the responsibility of refunding money from successfully grieved property tax assessments to the school districts. Previously, the county had been responsible for refunding these monies.
Bierwirth noted that Herricks had put money in reserve in case they had lost the suit against the county and would be forced to pay out property tax assessment refunds to residents. The funds, which were in the amount of $350,000, could now be taken out of reserve and spent on the district.
“The county lost,” he said. “At this stage, our attorney has said that we’ve won...the matter went to the New York State Court of Appeals, who held that what the county was doing was unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
While a final decision was not made on what to do with the money, possibilities include upgrades and renovations to the playgrounds, as well as other capital issues such as new windows at the high school. While restoring some cut teaching positions or programs was tempting, Bierwirth said he wanted to use the money on something the district would be able to sustain, as opposed to restoring something only to have to cut it once again the following year.
The Herricks School District is in an wait-and-see mode when it comes to the much-debated veterans tax exemption. The school board held a preliminary public hearing on a recent bill signed by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding school tax exemption for veterans of the United States military. Previously, vets only had exemptions from county taxes and not school taxes. Assistant Superintendent for Business Helen Costigan gave a presentation that outlined the specifics of the bill, and what latitude school districts have in choosing to follow it.
“School districts have the right to opt-in or opt-out of the veteran tax exemption if they so choose...it’s not required,” she said. “But before making this decision, we wanted community input beforehand. However, there is a defect in the law that we heard about only two hours ago, and the state needs to modify something and they’re working on it now...so, no decision will be made tonight.”
The veteran school tax exemptions are broken down into three tiers, of which an individual vet may qualify for more than one: a non-combat veteran, who would be eligible for a 15 percent reduction (to a maximum of $12,000); a combat veteran, who would be eligible for 25 percent (to a maximum of $20,000); and a disabled veteran, who would be eligible for 75 percent (to a maximum of $60,000). However, the state gives school districts wiggle room in adjusting the values and percentages within those tiers should they choose to opt-in to the program, Costigan noted.
Of these three different classifications, Nassau County’s Office of Assessment has identified 367 Non-Combat Veterans, 241 Combat Veterans, and 23 Disabled Veterans as currently living in the Herricks School District. If the board were to opt-in enact the exemption,
Costigan noted that the average homeowner would see a $25 increase in taxes to compensate for the decrease given to vets if enacted.
Any vets living within the Herricks district would automatically have the exemption applied to them. If the tax exemption is to be applied to the 2014-15 school year, it must be adopted by the board by March 15.
Board of Education President James Gounaris said that while Herricks felt that veterans of the armed forces are more than deserved the token of esteem that a school tax exception would provide, he and the board wanted to make sure that all of the details were being properly handled by New York State and the county before opting-in.
“I want to give the discount to the veterans who absolutely deserve it for what they’ve done for the country, but I want to make sure that the record-keeping of the county’s assessment office is legit, up-to-date, and accurate,” he said.