ALBANY – Officials in a Rensselaer County town say it was their fault, not State Sen. Catharine Young’s, that the Olean Republican got a property tax break for her second home near the Capitol.
Hours after Young blamed the situation on a mistake by her husband, who handles the family’s finances, the assessor in the Town of North Greenbush said that following Young’s purchase of the condo, town officials erroneously failed to remove the Basic STAR property tax exemption for the previous property owner.
In a letter to Young, Town Assessor John Harkin, a Democrat, said a “careful reading” of the local school tax bill would have shown that the property was still getting a STAR exemption. But he said it “appears there was no affirmation action taken by either you or your husband to claim this STAR exemption.”
“It certainly appears to me that this was an honest error by both parties. Sorry for any troubles this has certainly caused you in the past few days,” he wrote. In a written statement Thursday evening, Young said, “I am very relieved that this is cleared up, and the town was able to trace that the exemption was applied by them erroneously. The amount will be paid in full tomorrow.”
Young’s office said the exemption was worth about $200 a year, but with interest from a penalty, the total amount Young will reimburse the town is $4,214.42.
Harkin said the condo has been on the tax rolls in Young’s name since at least 2001. The Albany Times Union reported Thursday that the senator was a “double-dipper,” getting a STAR exemption on both her Olean home and the condo she purchased sometime after being elected in 1998.
Young told the newspaper that she learned of the error over the weekend and that she was going to repay the town any financial benefits she received over the past decade. The STAR program allows for a partial exemption for some of the property taxes owed on a resident’s primary residence, but not on second homes.
Harkin told The Buffalo News that he considers the matter closed since Young earlier this week applied to end the exemption and repay the town.
He said her exemption was formally ended Wednesday after he called the Olean tax assessor’s office to confirm that Young and her husband already had a Basic STAR exemption on their Olean house. “It was an honest mistake,” he said.
Lawmakers, who get per diems when they are in Albany to cover food and lodging costs, stay in a variety of places, including hotels, apartments and condos they purchase.
Harkin said the state’s Real Property Tax Services office emailed him Feb. 20 with the names of two North Greenbush property owners – Young was one of them – who may have STAR exemptions in more than two communities in New York at the same time. He said he believes the email was sent to assessors’ offices throughout the state. Monday, Harkin said a representative from Young’s office filed a form to remove her name from the STAR exemption list.