The Lansing School District offers tax exemptions to seniors, low income taxpayers, and to small business investment projects. When retired career military medevac pilot Bill Howard petitioned the Lansing Board of Education to adopt a tax exemption for military veterans last January it sparked an ongoing discussion on whether further exemptions should be offered. 

On the one hand, exemptions are granted in good causes, and nobody on the board argued that military service wasn't a good cause.  But when one group is exempted from property tax, everyone else must make up the difference, and some school board members were wary of adding to that burden, particularly when school revenue was significantly threatened by the NYS State GAP Elimination withdrawal of promised state funding and the ongoing devaluation of the Cayuga Power Plant, the largest taxpayer in the district, that meant millions in lost revenue over the years.

"Exemptions do not change the tax levy and it does not impact the tax cap," said School Business Administrator Kate Heath in a presentation to the Board Of Education Tuesday.  "It shifts the tax burden to those without the exemption.  School districts can vote on whether or not to offer exemptions each year, and are required to hold public hearings if they do offer them."

While a veteran's exemption has been under discussion, Heath noted that several other exemptions could be considered by school districts.  Some school districts and municipalities offer further exemptions for Improvements for Disabled (Newfield, T. Ithaca, County), Alternative Veterans exemptions (Trumansburg CSD, all surrounding municipalities except the V. of Dryden), and Historic Barns* (Newfield, Town of Ithaca, County).

Municipalities also offer exemptions based on Housing Trust, Living Quarters Grandparent or Parent, Green Buildings, Historic Property, Gold Star Parent, Cold War Veterans, Capital Improvements, and Veterans.  None of the districts currently offer first-time home buyers, school aged children, or Solar/Wind Energy Systems exemptions

Heath talked about tax exemptions other school districts currently offer their taxpayers, including Improvements for the Disabled (offered to veteran, spouses, or unre-married surviving spouse of veterans from WWII, or the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf wars.  This one has been talked about a lot in the last year or two.  It's based on a percentage of assessed value with a maximum value of exemption.  It is limited to veterans' primary residence.  The suggested state maximums are $12,000 for a wartime (15%) exemption, $20,000 for combat zone service, and $40,000 for disability, adding up to a 50% exemption.

Tompkins County ($15,000/$25,000/$50,000), and all towns within the County (Caroline, Danby, Dryden, Enfield, Groton, Ithaca, Lansing, Newfield, Ulysses) offer this exemption, as well as all the Villages except Dryden.   At this time Trumansburg is the only school district in the County that offers it ($12,000/$20,000/$40,000).

As of Tuesday Heath said 207 Lansing properties are eligible for Alternative Veterans exemptions.  If the school board opted to offer the exemption at the $6,000/9,000/20,000 level $2,099,700 of taxable value, which would come to $43,497 in actual tax dollars that would be shifted to other taxpayers, adding five cents to their tax rate.  At the $9,000/15,000/30,000 level $3,097,450 of taxable value would be shifted, resulting in $64,167 to be made up by non-exempt taxpayers.  At the $15,000/25,000/50,000 $4,963,795 in taxable value, or $102,829 of tax dollars would be shifted.

An exit survey after this year's school budget vote, plus an (unscientific) online survey indicated support for offering a discount to veterans, showed that there is some support in Lansing for a veteran's exemption, even though it would mean more taxes for non-veteran taxpayers.

The board did not vote on adding new exemptions to the mix.  However, it is likely to consider this discussion, possibly adding a veteran's exemption in 2018.