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Smithtown Central School District will not offer veterans exemption

Tom Swenson, 89, a Navy Seabee and later

Tom Swenson, 89, a Navy Seabee and later a cook lost his left leg in Guam, at his home in St. James on March 8, 2017. Swenson, one of the veterans who wants Smithtown Central School District to pass a veterans' tax exemption, says "Any little reduction we can get would be helpful." Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Smithtown Central School District, the only district in the town that does not offer a property tax exemption for veterans, will not consider establishing one until the 2018-19 school year, at the earliest, officials say.

District officials say they lack the information they need to properly evaluate the financial impact of the Alternative Veterans and Cold War tax breaks, which could reduce a qualified veteran’s school tax bill but would shift it to nonveterans.

The district has a $239 million budget, built on a typical school tax bill of $9,330.

The Cold War break was recently introduced, with the Alternative Veterans break signed into state law in 2013. The Board of Education voted 5-2 in 2014 not to offer that break. Advocates say it’s an urgent matter for veterans, some of whom are in their 90s.

“This is about making something good for them in their later years,” said Eddie Springer, commander of the American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1152, whose 105 members mainly served in World War II and the Korean War and are in their 80s or older.

Springer, a sergeant who served stateside during the Vietnam War, said that most went into blue collar jobs after their service. Some are struggling to stay in a town they’ve called home for decades, he said.

Among them is Tom Swenson, 89, a Navy Seabee and later a cook who lost his left leg in Guam. In civilian life, he worked as a post office clerk.

“Any little reduction we can get would be helpful,” he said.

Swenson is one of about 1,400 veterans who live in the district, a widower who attends the regular Friday coffee klatch at the nearby American Legion Sherwood Brothers post. He pays $7,294 in school taxes on the St. James ranch he and his wife moved into in 1955.

He says he’s proud of the public schools that make Smithtown a desirable place to live, but worried the tax bill could drive him out of his house. “I know where I am when I’m here,” he said. “I’m in my environment. I would never want to go anywhere else.”

In 2014, district officials estimated that the Alternative Veterans Exemption would have erased about $269,000 in assessed value across the district. The maximum exemption would have cost nonveteran households an additional $88.50 annually.

District administrators did not respond to an interview request, but Superintendent James Grossane released a statement addressing the Alternative Veterans exemption: “The board is very concerned regarding the increased tax burden this exemption would cause to the non-veteran taxpayer.”

Trustee Gladys Waldron, who voted against the measure in 2014, said in an interview that the exemption should be a state, not a district matter.

“I would be in favor of the exemption they have for veterans if the State of New York funded it,” Waldron said.

Smithtown School Districts Offering Veterans Exemptions:

Kings Park, Sachem, Three Village, Sachem, Hauppauge, Commack

Smithtown School Districts Not Offering Veterans Exemptions

Smithtown Central School District

Kings Park and Smithtown are the only districts entirely within Town of Smithtown boundaries.

Source: New York State Department of Taxation and Finance

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