Voorheesville CSD kicks off budget process with exemption discussions

— Photo from Albany County Sheriff’s Office

Firefighters put out a house-fire on Front Grove Road in New Scotland. The Voorheesville Central School District is taking community input on a property-tax exemption for volunteer first responders up to a maximum of 10 percent. 

VOORHEESVILLE — As the Voorheesville Central School District begins the process to build next year’s budget, it has invited taxpayers to consider whether the district should add a new property-tax exemption and expand two existing ones. 

The new exemption would be for firefighters and first responders, who, per state law, can be granted a maximum 10-percent exemption as of late last year. Many municipalities and school districts have already passed their local exemption law, including Albany County. 

The state has also recently allowed municipalities and districts to raise the maximum low-income exemption offered to residents who are 65 and older, and the district is independently reviewing its veterans exemption. 

Assistant Superintendent for Finance Jim Southard told attendees at an Oct. 19 budget forum that the maximum salary for seniors to get a 50-percent exemption has gone from $29,000 to $50,000. 

The state authorizes senior exemptions on a sliding scale, with the rate decreasing in 5-percent increments as salary increases, with those that earn up to $58,400 getting 5 percent off their property taxes.

For veterans, Southard said, exemptions are offered in three tiers depending on the veteran’s classification. Currently, the maximum exemption for wartime veterans is $6,000, while for combat veterans it’s $10,000, and for disabled veterans it’s $20,000. He said the district could increase those to $12,000, $20,000, and $40,000, respectively. 

“There’s no change to the law,” Southard said of the veteran exemption. “We decided to look at it based on the requests we’ve received and concerns from veterans.”

For all of these changes to go into effect, the expected impact on non-exempt taxpayers would be around $100 annually, based on a median home value of $300,000, he said, though he cautioned that some of the exemption impacts are tricky to estimate. 

For one thing, there are several variables involved in the firefighter exemption, such as whether the district actually goes up to the state-set limit (as has been the trend elsewhere), whether volunteers must hit two, three, four, or five years of service to be eligible, whether those with 20 years of service will receive a lifetime exemption, and whether widows of firefighters will be offered an exemption. 

“Talking about the potential impact is very difficult, because we don’t have this exemption in place right now,” Southard said, “so I’ve made my best effort at trying to get a maximum number that it could be.”

With around 184 volunteers between two fire districts that serve the Voorheesville district taxpayers, based on lists on the department websites, the estimated exemption amount of $5.5 million would raise the burden by about 5.5 cents per $1,000 in assessed value for other taxpayers, or a .33-percent increase, he said.

That would be about $16.50 for the average home, he said.

The senior-citizen exemption is easier to predict, Southard said, since there’s a baseline to work from.

“We know that the existing exemptions are $2.4 million,” he said. “The increase for the 84 people that get it right now is $1.8 million. We assume — because we have no real way to judge it — that about the same number of people would be affected by the increase in income limits, so that would be $4 million. The total $6 million potential increase would increase the tax rate by six cents per $1,000 of market value, about .4 percent.”

That would be about $18 for the average home, Southard said.

The veteran exemption is the largest, with $22 million exempt across nearly 400 recipients, he said. The increase would raise taxes by about 22 cents per $1,000, or $66 for the average home.

Altogether, the median impact from all three changes would be about $100 for non-exempt taxpayers.



Several members of the New Salem and Voorheesville fire departments showed up in support of the first-responder exemption. 

Chief of the Voorheesville department, Thomas Cascone, started out by saying that their ranks were about 20 fewer than had been estimated, and that they “had someone come in and take a look at our property values,” and found that the average cost of a home (among firefighters) was $250,000. 

Assistant Chief John Springer added later that only about 20 members, of the 35 they have, would actually qualify for the exemption. 

The exemption naturally does not extend to volunteers who rent, or to those who don’t own property that contributes to the Voorheesville school district tax base. 

Cascone said that the exemption would help boost recruitment, which has been a struggle as it is for volunteer squads across the state. 

“We don’t make nothing,” Cascone said of volunteer service. “We have a $200 state tax deduction. That’s it right now.” 

The average age in the squad is 55, and Cascone said that the exemption could entice younger volunteers “that would stick around the area, bring their kids to this school and help out in all the stuff that we do.” 

After reminding the board and attendees that the department does more than just fight fires — such as “adopting” a child with cancer and raising $10,000 for the child’s family — Cascone said that, if the volunteer squad were to go under, property taxes would go up 50 percent. 

“We’re asking for pennies compared to what would happen if the volunteer service died,” he said. 

Attorney William Young, who has represented the department since 1976, and was once counsel for the State Association of Fire Districts, told the board that he was “very supportive” of the tax exemption, describing his estimated $15.75 contribution as “very small recognition for the service they provide.” 

He also said he supported the senior and veteran exemption expansions. 

George Henderson, of the New Salem Fire Department, said that volunteers have a “passion that nobody can beat,” as evidenced by the amount of money, time, and effort they put into training and day-to-day service. 

“We’re there for the people, so now you need to be there for us,” he said.

A disabled veteran of the United States Army, whose name could not be heard clearly, said he was there to support the firefighters because “my house almost burned down on one of the coldest nights,” and was responded to by volunteers. 

“I also happen to notice this district has a lot of $100,000-plus cars so, as far as I’m concerned as a taxpayer, our district can well afford it,” he said.

The wife of a firefighter said that the exemption is a recognition of the sacrifice that firefighters’ families take on as well.


Next steps

The Oct. 19 meeting was a preliminary forum meant to establish a foundation of input for the board of education as it gets started on its budget process. District budgets are voted on by taxpayers in May, at the same time as board of education elections. 

Board President Rachel Gilker said that the issue would likely be put onto the December meeting agenda, skipping November so that people have time to watch a recording of the October meeting and send in or think about their own questions or concerns.

“There’s volleyball going on tonight and lots of other things as well, so we can’t expect everyone to be able to be here,” she said. “But we want to hear from as many people who want to share their input on the exemptions and budget priorities as well.”

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