Knox lowers taxes for veterans

KNOX — The town board is allowing veterans a six times larger reduction of their property assessments, starting with their 2016 tax bills.

Supervisor Michael Hammond said the board arrived at the new maximum reductions by matching limits set by neighboring towns of Berne and Westerlo.

The measure passed on Tuesday with four votes in favor. Councilman Dennis Decker, who said he is a veteran but not eligible for the exemption, abstained, “in case there may be a future benefit to myself,” he explained, saying he supports the increase.

The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board adopted the “basic maximum” exemption this year, to be reflected in school-tax bills this fall, after the state tax law was expanded to include school districts. BKW allowed reduction maximums of $12,000 for wartime service, $8,000 for combat service, and up to $40,000 for disabled veterans. The maximums are subject to equalization rates.

Knox Assessor Russell Pokorny told The Enterprise that he estimated the veterans exemption increase in Knox would result, on average, in about $5 added to each household’s tax bill. He cautioned that his training doesn’t qualify him to make financial projections about the impact of such a change, but he did so at the request of the town board.

“By means of increasing this benefit limitation, you’ve eliminated $711,000 in taxable value for the roll,” Pokorny said Wednesday. “So now you’ve got to come up with that much, you’ve got to in effect re-levy all that.”

He added, “The tax levy spread out over the town has to be increased in order to recapture that lost value.”

Knox has 61 war-time, 50 combat, and 16 disabled veterans, according to Pokorny. He said he doesn’t know whether the town has extended eligibility to Gold Star Parents, whose children died in war, as BKW did.

Though the exemption was adopted this week, Pokorny said, eligible veterans won’t see its effect in their tax bills until January 2016.

On Tuesday night, Vietnam veteran Edward Ackroyd, who had pushed for the change, thanked the board for raising its exemption limit, but chafed at its delayed effect.

If the board acted when he had requested the increased reductions, months before the 2014 tax roll was made in May, Ackroyd said, the veterans would have had the benefit sooner. He noted to The Enterprise on Wednesday that the increases to non-veteran property taxes were postponed through two elections.

“I find that political in nature and it’s upsetting,” Ackroyd said on Wednesday. No Knox officials are up for re-election this year, but, in November 2015, voters will weigh in on the terms for supervisor, town clerk, tax collector, and two council seats.

“There’s nothing to that, no,” Hammond said Wednesday of political motivation. “It just had to be to the point that I got the information that we needed.”

Ackroyd, a Knox resident, appeared at several school board meetings earlier this year as the new exemption was being considered at BKW. He and other veterans asked the school board to adopt a higher maximum reduction.

During a public hearing on the measure, Ackroyd displayed in front of the school board a plaque listing the district’s students killed in war.

As he learned more about the law by petitioning the school board, Ackroyd discovered that the maximum set by Knox is significantly less than nearby towns, so he asked the town board in March to raise its limit, last addressed in Knox in 1997.

Hammond told The Enterprise after Tuesday’s meeting he wasn’t sure why Knox’s limits stayed low while other towns’ were higher. “All these people sitting on this board I don’t think were on the board then,” Hammond said when asked of the reason. “I just can’t come up with it.” Hammond and Councilman Nicholas Viscio were board members at that time; the three other current board members were not.

Board members in Knox and Berne-Knox-Westerlo expressed frustration at their choice: weighing benefits to veterans against the burden for all other taxpayers.

The Alternative Veterans’ Exemption grants reductions of 15 percent for veterans who have served in active duty during a war, 10 percent for combat service, and a percentage equal to half of a veteran’s disability rating. The ceiling on dollar amounts to those limits are set by local tax districts.

On Tuesday, Knox raised its limit from the lowest threshold — a $6,000 possible reduction, for example, to veterans who served during wartime — to limits for wartime, combat, and disability of $36,000, $24,000, and $120,000.

As taxing districts within Albany County, Knox and BKW have the option of choosing among a set of six still higher limits, reaching for those same categories to $54,000, $36,000, and $180,000.

The exemption applies only to a veteran’s primary residence. Also, it does not apply to taxes levied by special districts, like a fire district.

Other business

In other business, all actions were unanimous as the town board:

— Heard from Vice President Jane McLean about the Knox Historical Society’s upcoming metal detector demonstration on June 21, a July 13 installation of a historic marker on Knox-made pillboxes, and quilt shows on Aug. 3 and 10;

— Heard suggestions from resident Anna Wolfe on the town’s comprehensive plan survey, which was mailed to Knox households this month.

She asked the board to consider hiring planner Nan Stolzenburg and forming a committee of volunteers to interpret the results of the survey; encouraging people to use the online version of the survey, since its software organizes the results; notifying residents that more than one survey per household can be filled by request; and including the topic of the comprehensive plan in discussions at every board meeting.

The board did not discuss the suggestions;

— Heard from Deputy Tracy Mance that the Albany County Sheriff’s Office has created a monthly newsletter, available on its website;

— Voted to advertise the position of zoning board of appeals member to fill the vacancy left by Jay Baumstein, whose term ends in December 2017;

— Heard from Hammond that he has contacted AmSure insurance agency to address the shingles ripped from the main building roof at the transfer station during a tornado and thunderstorm in late May. A clothing donation shed was blown away at the transfer station, as well, Hammond reported;

— Voted to authorize Hammond to purchase a sandbox, at a cost between $150 and $200, for a playing area in the town park, to be assembled by Girl Scouts.

County Legislator Travis Stevens suggested the town plan to move all playground equipment closer to the pavilion;

— Voted to appoint Nathan Giordano as chairman of the conservation advisory council. Giordano’s wife is Town Clerk Tara Murphy;

— Authorized Hammond to purchase a copier at a cost of no more than $5,000;

— Discussed painting the Saddlemire Homestead that currently houses the Knox Historical Society Museum.

Hammond told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the town advertised for the painting.

— Heard from Hammond that a county representative will be available to address veterans’ affairs at town hall from 9 to 11 a.m. on July 2;

— Entered into an executive session to discuss the discipline of an employee and legal matters; and

— Returned to public session and voted to authorize the highway superintendent to hire a truck driver on a temporary basis, with a starting rate of $14.54 per hour.

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