More than 54,000 homeowners in Western New York are about to forego a $500 gift from New York State. There is still a little time, however, to claim the windfall. All it will take is a few clicks of a computer mouse or a phone call.
What is this manna from heaven? It’s the basic STAR property tax exemption, available to those earning less than $500,000 and who own and live in their homes. But this present from Albany to the state’s overtaxed homeowners won’t be delivered to those who fail to act by the Tuesday deadline to re-register.
There is real money at stake. The average statewide annual STAR savings on property taxes is $700. Locally, the savings average $493 in Erie County and $600 in Niagara County. In Westchester County, which has the state’s highest property tax bills, the average STAR savings amounts to a hefty $1,756 per homeowner.
This re-registration requirement is occurring because the state is trying to cut out those who have been gaming the system.
State officials uncovered about $13 million in fraudulent or false filings from 2011-12, and launched the one-time re-registration program for those already receiving the exemption on their primary residence in order to weed out the cheaters.
A concerted effort is under way to inform homeowners about the looming deadline. The state’s Department of Taxation and Finance has put out reminders, months ago mailing letters to homeowners with basic STAR exemptions. The letter has a unique code for homeowners to use to register. The code also can be accessed online through the STAR registration website, tax.ny.gov, or by calling (518) 457-2036.
State elected officials also have made appearances at public gatherings to let people know and have sent notices in the mail. The media, including The News, have posted stories about the deadline. And the state is making robocalls to homeowners who have yet to sign up.
Despite that effort, response has been disappointing, although a recent call to the help line indicated increased traffic.
Phone lines should be jammed and the website crashing … well, maybe not that much. But for those last-minute filers, the state has expanded its hours for assistance. Representatives will be available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Gifts from Albany don’t come often. Don’t let this one go to waste.