OLEAN, NY - New York State Senator Catherine Young (R-Olean) says she was unaware until recently that she and her husband had, for more than a decade, been improperly claiming a Basic STAR property tax exemption on both their primary residence in Olean, and a condominium they own in an Albany suburb, which Sen. Young uses when working at the state capitol.
In a statement released to Two On Your Side this morning, Senator Young indicated her husband was responsible for the error.
"Like many families, my husband handles all of our financial matters. I just found out about this. I took immediate action to correct it. I have filed the appropriate legal documents to cancel the STAR (on the North Greenbush condo) and repay the full amount owed. The assessor is calculating how much and as soon as I have the assessor's figures, it will be paid in full."
The Albany Times Union newspaper reports that an aide to the Senator said she learned of the dual exemption over the weekend "during a casual conversation with her husband."
Late this afternoon, however, Young's office released the following e-mail, which it says was sent to the Senator from North Greenbush Assessor John Harkin, and in which he indicates the Youngs were not at fault for what he classifies as an unfortunate mixup.
"I have researched the STAR exemption on the property in the Town of North Greenbush and found that the exemption was on the property prior to your purchasing it. I have the STAR application confirming the date of the exemption sent in by the previous owner. The Assessor sent a STAR application to the North Greenbush address after your purchase however it was was returned by the Post Office. She unfortunately did not remove the exemption off the property and the exemption has remained on the property erroneously.
While a careful reading of the School Tax bill would have revealed this fact it appears there was no affirmation action taken by either You or your Husband to claim this STAR exemption. It certainly appears to me that this was an honest error by both parties.
Sorry for any troubles this has certainly caused you in the past few days. If I can be of further help please do not hesitate to call me.
Young's press secretary told WGRZ-TV that Young was unavailable to speak with us on Thursday.
City of Olean Assessor Nancy Champlin confirmed for Channel 2 News that she had been contacted by the NYS Office of Real Property Services (ORPS) within the past two weeks, which e-mailed to her a list of several properties where it appeared that the owners had filed for STAR exemptions on more than one property.
"They have been doing spot checks like this for the past few years," Champlin said.
The STAR program allows taxpayers to exempt a portion of their home's assessed value from school taxes. But it is only allowed for the taxpayer's owner-occupied, primary residence.
This "spot check", as Champlin described it, revealed the Young's had been claiming a STAR Exemption for both their home in Olean, and the condo in North Greenbush since 2001.
Just last week, NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit, suggesting that the STAR program is rife with incidents of "double dipping".
The audit sampled STAR exemptions for 6,500 properties, and estimated that one out of every five, or 20 percent, had been granted improperly...costing the state roughly $13 million.