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Town residents have until March 1 to seek property-tax exemptions

Senior citizens, veterans and others who live in Erie County's towns must apply for property-tax exemptions by March 1 -- two months earlier than usual.

The change brings Erie into line with every other county in New York. Taxpayers filing for any property-tax exemption, such as STAR, enhanced STAR, veterans, disability, agricultural or business exemptions, must file or renew the exemption on or before March 1.

The deadline for filing with the local assessor's office this year is not the usual May 1.

"I don't want anybody to miss the opportunity to apply," said Cheektowaga Assessor Brian Hess, who is expanding his office hours for the town. Next week, from Monday to Friday, Hess' Town Hall office will be open an extra two hours -- from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Until this year, Erie was the only county in upstate New York with towns that were not using the standard state calendar for setting property assessment values and exemptions, said Geoff Gloak, spokesman for the state Office of Real Property Services in Albany.

"Being on the standard assessment calendar means that you and your neighbors and your family are all going to have the same deadlines," Gloak said.

County Legislator Raymond Walter, R-Amherst, said the change "is especially important for people who are applying for an exemption for the first time, such as those applying for the new Cold War veterans exemption, or those renewing an application, such as enhanced STAR."

"This change also affects individuals who bought a new home within the past year and need to apply for a STAR exemption for that property," he added.

However, the exemption deadline for the county's cities is dictated by charter and falls on Dec. 1.

The change will also affect the date that taxpayers can challenge assessments through the town boards of assessment review. The old law set the grievance day as the first Tuesday in June. The new law sets the grievance date for the 25 towns of Erie County for the fourth Tuesday in May. For 2009, that date will be May 26.

Even with the newly synchronized calendar, tax matters can be tricky, said Patricia Valvo, regional manager for the state's Office of Real Property Services.

"New York State has more complexity in real property tax administration than any other state in the United States," she said. "It would be nicer if it were a great deal more simplified."

The local assessor's office can help. Also, visit www.orps.state.ny.us/primer/index.htm.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com and mspina@buffnews.com

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