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Vets' Tax Breaks May Impact Municipalities' Budgets

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — November 6, 2007 — The Sullivan County Legislature’s Veterans Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a 15 percent county property tax discount for Cold War veterans.
But if the full Legislature approves it at its November 15 meeting, County Manager David Fanslau warned that a countywide tax increase would likely have to go with it.
Those who served in the armed forces during times of peace between 1946 and 1991 would pay taxes on 85 percent of their primary home property’s assessed value.
First proposed by state legislators, the discount is not reimbursed by the state and only applies in those municipalities that accept it. In other words, if the county agrees to it but a school district does not, only the county portion of property taxes will be reduced, not the school district’s.
Legislators had a choice to accept a 10 percent discount rather than 15, but local veterans who attended Thursday’s meeting urged them to give as big a break as possible to peacetime veterans who don’t get the same exemptions and discounts their wartime comrades do.
“These people are veterans, regardless of what war they were in,” stated Murray Cohen, past commander of the Jesse Brams Post of the Jewish War Veterans. “If anybody gets a benefit… they should get it.
“I think if it’s [costing the county] $300,000 to $400,000, the county can eat it,” he concluded.
Fanslau said the impact to the county budget would be closer to $100,000 if the 1,700 known Cold War veterans in Sullivan County all applied for the discount.
But officials admitted that population may be twice as high and thus could double that $100,000 figure – countered by veterans who deemed it unlikely a huge number of veterans would apply, or that even the bulk of them actually own property.
Then again, the county isn’t the only one looking at this discount. Local assessors “are scared to death of what that impact might be,” said Committee Chair Ron Hiatt, mentioning in particular Delaware Assessor Verl Ringgenberg, a well-known veteran.
Ringgenberg is one of many people expected to speak at the November 15 public hearing on the discount, scheduled to be held at 1:50 p.m. inside the Legislative Chambers at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello.
Thereafter, the Legislature is expected to officially vote on it, considering the December 1 deadline required to make it a law that would become effective in January 2009.
Legislator Leni Binder pointed out that, as a result, legislators could spend the next year getting money into place in the county budget to possibly mitigate a tax impact.
The townships and school districts have to make their own decisions on this discount, but their deadline isn’t until March 1, officials said.
Veteran Keith Rumsey, citing tax breaks given to everyone from firefighters to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, said he has high expectations of local assessors.
“If they won’t stand behind their veterans, they shouldn’t be the assessor,” he remarked.
However, Legislator Frank Armstrong, himself a veteran, took the state to task for putting municipalities in the uncomfortable position of giving tax breaks to deserving people yet without having state funds to cover the resulting funding gap.
“I think we’re missing a big part of the conversation,” he explained. “What I’m annoyed about is the State of New York… This is one of those half-you-know-the-rest-of-it jobs.”

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