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EXEMPTION PROGRAMS CUT MANY SENIORS' SCHOOL TAX BILL TO ZERO

How would you like to avoid paying school taxes?

In the Town of Tonawanda, scores of seniors are doing just that, thanks to the town's long-standing senior homeowners exemption and to the "enhanced" STAR program.

That news was announced this week when town officials noted that the deadline for all property tax filing has been moved up a month to May 1, after Erie County asked the State Legislature to make tax filing dates more convenient for property owners.

"The change affects all exemption applications, including STAR, as well as moving tax grievance day up a month, too," Assessor David M. Unmack said.

The date change was announced at Monday's Town Board meeting by Councilman Stephen W. Stirling, who noted that some homeowners will owe no school taxes because of senior exemptions.

Though all property owners get modest school tax reductions under the standard School Tax Relief program -- and do not have to refile unless they move to a different home -- seniors applying for "enhanced" STAR must file annually and show their income. This year, that must be done before May 1.

"We have had more than 50 homeowners who pay no school taxes in the two years STAR has been in effect," Town Clerk Cal Champlin said. "Each year, we get these tax bills with a zero on them sent back with question marks. Some people can't believe it."

All seniors over 65 can get some relief from property taxes. Under "enhanced" STAR, homeowners over 65 can get an exemption of a sizable portion of their assessment for school taxes.

"In Tonawanda, that's $32,000," Unmack said. "So if a typical home is assessed at $50,000, right there the school tax bill will be computed on just $18,000. They can pay less if they meet income standards."

Champlin said it was difficult to determine how many residents paid zero school taxes, but he said it was more than 50.

He checked one home on Moore Avenue assessed at $49,800 that would have to pay $1,066 in school taxes. With the "enhanced" STAR exemption, the town's senior exemption and the fact the household income was low enough, the school tax bill was zero.

"They'll still pay some town and county property taxes, but those are about half the school tax," Champlin said. "The first year we saw zero school tax bills, I got thank-you notes from some older residents. And all I do is send out the bills."

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