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Senior citizens will save an average of $140 on their school property taxes next year under a new state exemption program, and Buffalo plans to help them apply for the tax breaks, Mayor Masiello said today.

The city will send teams of specialists to meet with seniors at community centers and provide other help to homeowners under the new STAR (State Tax Relief) program, the mayor announced at a City Hall news conference. Senior citizens have until Dec. 1 to apply for the exemption.

The STAR exemption is expected to cut property taxes throughout the state by up to 27 percent in the year 2001-02 and could mean up to $30 million in tax relief for Buffalo residents when it takes full effect.

"This is a significant step in the right direction," Masiello said today, adding that the city is eager to help get the word out to senior citizens.

"This screams out for an aggressive outreach program," said City Budget Director James M. Milroy.

Buffalo residents could receive more than $30 million a year in tax relief once the STAR program is phased in, according to city estimates, or about half of what the city now contributes to city schools. The state has pledged to make up the shortfall caused by the exemption, officials said.

City officials have set up special phone lines to answer seniors' questions, and Masiello said he will join the city's "STAR Assistance Teams" in explaining the exemptions at public meetings beginning at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Autumnwood Senior Citizen Center, 1800 Clinton St., and also at 1490 Jefferson.

Other sessions are set for:

Wednesday, 11 a.m., Concerned Ecumenical Ministries, 286 Lafayette Ave.; and Polish Cadets Senior Center, 927 Grant St.

Next Thursday, 10 a.m., Father Belle Center, 104 Maryland St.; and Gloria Parks Center, 3242 Main St.

Oct. 10, 11 a.m., Tosh Collins Center, 35 Cazenovia St.

STAR was designed by state officials to provide property tax relief for homeowners burdened by rapidly increasing school taxes.

Under the rules, senior citizens earning less than $60,000 will get a 45 percent tax break. To be eligible, either spouse that jointly owns property must be at least 65 years old. The tax breaks start with at least a $12,500 full-value assessment exemption on school taxes for 1998-99 and will be phased in to at least $50,000 in 2001-02. The exemption also will be adjusted using state equalization rates.

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