BY CHERYL SLAVIN
What takes less than five minutes to do but can net Rockland homeowners an average of $700 a year in tax savings? The answer is as easy as the process—re-register for the Basic STAR property tax exemption program, New York State’s school property tax relief program.
As originally conceived in the late 1990s, eligible new homeowners signed up for the program by filing the proper forms with their local tax assessor at or around the same time that they purchase their home. Thereafter they would receive the tax exemption for as long as they owned the house, without ever having to re-register. Eligibility for Basic STAR required only that the combined income of all owners and non-owner spouses not exceed $500,000, that the property was their prime residence, and that they did not own any other property receiving the STAR exemption.
Over the years, however, State Taxation Department officials noticed an increasing amount of fraud or inappropriate application of the STAR exemption. There were some homeowners registering two or more properties for the program, or receiving a STAR-like exemption on a different property owned outside of New York State. Accordingly, the State legislature passed a new one-time requirement for all residents already registered for a STAR exemption through 2013 to re-register by December 31, 2013. By doing so the department hoped to weed out the double-dippers while at the same time preserve the benefit for all those who are used it correctly.
Rockland residents should have received letters from the Taxation Department about the re-registration this past September. The department has also been conducting outreach by presenting information at county, town and village meetings, enlisting the aid of elected officials, and by holding registration events such as the ones this past Tuesday at North Rockland High School and Fieldstone Middle School. Regional Director John Wolham of the Office of Real Property Tax Services spent several hours manning a table in each of the school lobbies so that residents could ask questions and re-register right then and there.
Despite finding the on line registration process to be fast and easy—or maybe because it was so—Stony Point resident Irene Buckenberger stopped by just to make sure that she had registered correctly. Wolham assured her that in all likelihood her registration was fine, but he also directed her to the place on the website where she could check, as well as a phone number to call.
Dennis and Elizabeth Bazazian came by to re-register. Wolham asked them a few simple questions, and in just a few minutes they were done. “It was easy, fantastic,” Dennis said. Elizabeth concurred, “A snap, and so convenient!”
North Rockland teacher Thomas Cerniglia was one of the last arrivals of the afternoon. He also only wanted to check that he had done the registration correctly; he was one of the few who actually had gone on line to do it the day he got his letter in the mail. “I have five kids myself,” he explained, “so anything that I can do to save money I do it right away.”
Wolham also took the time to help one resident figure out how she could help her elderly parents. In doing so he explained the difference between the Basic STAR, which most homeowners have, and the Enhanced STAR program for seniors. Since residents receiving the Enhanced STAR exemption must by its nature register every year, they do not fall under the requirement to re-register this one time as the Basic recipients do.
In all Wolham helped 39 people and registered 21 at North Rockland. Overall, about 56% of all eligible homeowners in Rockland have completed their re-registrations, which is about the average for the state as well.
The process for re-registration is simple. Residents can go on line to HYPERLINK “http://www.tax.ny.gov” www.tax.ny.gov and follow the prompts to registration. Those who no longer have their notification letters can still register by looking up their STAR property code through the website’s finder tool, and then follow the instructions from there. The process takes less than five minutes. For those who do not have access to the internet or just have questions, the number to call is 518-457-2036. Presently, there are no more public events scheduled for Rockland County, although if an organization would like to hold one, members can contact the Regional Office at 845-567-2660 and one can be scheduled if there is enough time. Residents also can look up upcoming public events in neighboring counties by going to tax.ny.gov/press/star_local_events.pdf.