18 percent of Western New York homeowners are passing up free STAR savings from state - The Buffalo News
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18 percent of Western New York homeowners are passing up free STAR savings from state

Residents in more than 54,000 homes across Western New York are on the verge of not accepting a gift of about $500 each from New York State.

Two state legislators from Western New York took to the podium Monday morning to remind homeowners about the Dec. 31 deadline for re-registering for the basic STAR exemption – that state program that provides local homeowners substantial savings in their school taxes.

So far, according to statistics released by State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, 30,587 households in Erie County have failed to re-register for that STAR (School Tax Relief) exemption. That represents about 18 percent of the households that needed to re-register, meaning only 82 percent have re-u+pped.

To root out some $13 million in fraudulent or false filings from 2011-12, the state launched the one-time re-registration program for those already receiving the exemption on their primary residence. This does not apply to homeowners who have never registered at their current residence.

State tax officials and lawmakers are concerned about the relatively low re-registration rates, including just 68 percent in Buffalo.

With only two weeks until the deadline, Kennedy and Ryan, both Buffalo Democrats, held a news conference Monday morning at West Side Neighborhood Housing Services to warn local residents.

“Let’s make this clear,” Kennedy said. “Substantial tax savings is just a few minutes away.”

Added Ryan, “Right now, right after you put that star on your Christmas tree, go online or call and re-register for your STAR exemption.”

Those who need to re-register may log onto tax.ny.gov or call (518) 457-2036.

State tax officials said Monday that nearly 650,000 homeowners who get the Basic STAR exemption across the state have not yet re-registered.

The Dec. 31 deadline, though, is somewhat of a soft one.

State Tax Commissioner Thomas Mattox told lawmakers in a hearing last week at the Capitol that those New Yorkers who fail to register by Dec. 31 will get a third and final letter from the tax agency urging them to do so. But he also warned that in February the department would begin sending notices to local assessors with the names of people to delete from the STAR program.

A law enacted earlier this year bans local assessors from considering appeals by those who are booted from the STAR program. The state tax department makes the final determination on who can keep the STAR exemption, though homeowners can appeal the agency’s decision within 45 days to the state Board of Real Property Tax Services.

“The law does allow for late registration, but it’s in the best interest of eligible homeowners to register by the Dec. 31 deadline,” said tax department spokesman Geoffrey Gloak. “As we move into 2014, it will become increasingly cumbersome to complete late registration.”

The average statewide annual STAR savings on property taxes is $700. Locally, the figures are $493 in Erie County and $600 in Niagara County. Westchester County, home to the state’s highest property tax bills, has an average STAR savings of $1,756 per homeowner.

State numbers on total savings are hard to reconcile.

The 2014 state budget’s financial plan estimated that the state would save $1 million by eliminating people from the STAR program who do not qualify. That number, unless re-registration activity dramatically picks up in the coming weeks, is certain to rise. The governor’s budget office, meanwhile, said that $19 million will be saved by the state if just 1 percent of current STAR recipients fail to re-register.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com and tprecious@buffnews.com

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