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ASSESSOR APPEALS FOR ASSISTANCE WITH STAR APPLICATIONS

Already barraged by senior citizens looking for school tax relief next year, North Tonawanda City Assessor Brian M. Hess Tuesday night appealed to the Common Council for help.

Hess said three of his office staff are working practically full time to handle prospective applicants seeking tax relief under Gov. Pataki's state School Tax Relief Program, known as STAR.

Hess estimates that his office will receive applications from 2,500 senior citizen homeowners over the next five months.

The practical problem for his office, Hess said, is that other necessary work is piling up and not getting done.

He said he needs one or two part-time workers to cope with the increasing load, and noted that the first application period doesn't even begin until November.

There are two types of relief aid under the governor's program; "enhanced" and "basic," both applying only to school taxes on the applicant's primary, or main, residence, Hess explained.

Owner-occupied primary residences include houses, condominiums and cooperative apartments.

The "enhanced" relief starts with the 1998-99 school tax; the "basic" relief with the school tax of 1999-2000.

Hess said the STAR qualifications are:

An applicant (either husband or wife for couples) must be 64 years of age or older to qualify for enhanced relief.

The application period for enhanced relief is Nov. 3 this year to March 1 next year.

The application period for basic relief is Nov. 3, 1998, to March 1, 1999.

Any age group is eligible for basic aid.

The income limit for enhanced aid is $60,000 a year. There is no income limit for basic relief.

Hess outlined the amount of school tax exemption for senior citizens (enhanced) over the next four years as:

1998 -- $12,500 times the municipality's equalization rate.

1999 -- $25,000 times the equalization rate.

2000 -- $37,500 times the equalization rate.

2001 -- $50,000 times the equalization rate.

For other school taxpayers, the basic STAR program calls for zero relief in 1998; $10,000 times the equalization rate in 1999; $20,000 times the rate in the year 2000, and $30,000 times the rate in 2001.

Hess noted that tax rates and equalization rates change on a yearly basis.

As examples, Hess estimated savings to taxpayers under enhanced STAR at $238 for 1998; $475 for 1999; $713 for 2000, and $950 for 2001.

For other (basic) taxpayers: zero in 1998; $190 in 1999; $380 in 2000, and $570 in 2001.

Hess said property owners who already have senior citizens tax exemptions need not apply again for the enhanced exemption. They are automatically qualified.

Under STAR, municipalities will be reimbursed through the State Lottery for any tax losses. Program administration costs will be paid by the state.

The Common Council is expected to act on Hess' request for office help at next Tuesday's meeting.

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