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Homeowners ignoring state STAR

Thousands of Buffalo homeowners are turning their backs on STAR power, and city officials can't understand why.

Nearly one in four homeowners who are eligible to slash their property tax bills haven't applied for the state's STAR tax exemption. Failure to meet a Dec. 1 deadline could cost property owners up to $378 in lost exemptions next year.

City Hall estimates that 8,668 eligible homeowners could lose out on nearly $3.3 million in tax breaks because they failed to fill out a simple form.

"We sit back and shake our heads," said Martin F. Kennedy, assessment and taxation commissioner.

The city will mail STAR applications to eligible residents in the coming days, Mayor Byron W. Brown said Wednesday. "We want to make sure people do not lose any money they're eligible for," Brown said.

The beauty of STAR an acronym for the state's School Tax Relief Program -- is that localities are reimbursed for "every nickel" of the exemptions, Kennedy said.

"It's absolutely no fiscal hit on the city whatsoever," he said.

About 40,000 city property owners are eligible for STAR exemptions, and the budget office estimates 31,000 have taken advantage of the tax relief.

There are two types of STAR exemptions. Under the Basic STAR program, there are no age or income rules, and homeowners need only apply one time. Basic exemptions are automatically renewed. Under the Enhanced STAR program, homeowners must meet age and income requirements. The Enhanced STAR program requires recipients to file annual applications.

The city has made some headway in recent years when it comes to enrolling people in the STAR Program. Five years ago, a Buffalo News analysis estimated that more than 16,800 city homeowners who appeared to be eligible for a total of $7 million in tax breaks had not filed STAR applications. The number has been nearly cut in half since 2003.

For more information on the STAR program, people can also call 851-4373 or visit Room 105 in City Hall.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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