By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Property owners started receiving letters this week from the state to re-register to continue to receive a School Tax Relief exemption.
The state Tax Department said Tuesday that more than 2.6 million homeowners will receive instructions by early October on how to retain their STAR exemptions.
People will need to reapply for the STAR program online or by phone by Dec. 31, including verifying their salaries, Social Security numbers and primary residence.
The reregistration is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initiative to crack down on fraud and abuse of the STAR program and save the state $1 million a year. A state audit in March found widespread instances where homeowners were claiming the tax break on multiple residences.
"This balanced approach protects the integrity of the STAR program and guards taxpayer dollars from those who seek to game the system," Cuomo said in a statement. "The registration program provides an accessible, convenient and secure way for qualified homeowners to retain their exemption."
The STAR program, enacted in 1998, provides a partial exemption from school taxes for most homeowners with incomes less than $500,000 on their primary residence. The state's enhanced STAR program provides an additional benefit for senior citizens with incomes of $81,900 or less.
The registration will not affect this year's tax bills, nor will it affect enhanced STAR. The average homeowner benefit from STAR is $700 annually, totaling $1.9 billion each year.
The letters started going out this week in parts of the Southern Tier and central New York, including in Broome, Cortland, Onondaga, Tioga and Tompkins counties. They will go out next week in other areas of the Southern Tier and western New York, including Erie, Monroe and Chemung counties.
The letters will hit mailboxes starting Sept. 9 in the Hudson Valley, including in Dutchess, Putnam and Rockland counties. The letters will go out in Westchester County starting Sept. 30, according to the tax department.
Homeowners will not have to re-register every year. Local tax assessors have had difficulty determining whether homeowners are claiming STAR on multiple properties; the new system should help, state officials said.
"Local assessors monitor Basic STAR in their communities, but do not have the ability to know if an individual is receiving STAR in any of the other 1,000 localities statewide," Thomas Mattox, the state tax commissioner, said in a statement. "This is the first registration in the STAR Program's 15-year history, and it will eliminate inappropriate and fraudulent exemptions."
The letter includes instructions for the department's online application. For more information, visit www.tax.ny.gov or call 518-457-2036.