By DANIEL OFFNER
Homeowners currently receiving a basic STAR exemption from the state will need to re-register with the state Department of Taxation and Finance by Dec. 31, 2013 or they will lose out on state tax relief benefits provided by the program in 2014 and future years.
The loss of basic STAR benefits will ultimately amount to a significant increase in a homeowner’s local school tax bill, if they fail to register by the Dec. 31 deadline.
According to Town Assessor Mark Heinbockel, come November, residents in the Town/Village of Harrison—and other homeowners statewide—currently receiving basic STAR benefits will receive a letter from the state providing a registration code for applicable homeowners to apply online or by phone to re-register for benefits.
“There is no bonus for re-registering,” Heinbockel said, “it’s only to keep what you already got.”
Currently, there are 2,695 homeowners receiving basic STAR benefits in Harrison who will be subject to re-register with the state in order to keep their tax exemption privileges in 2014 and subsequent years.
Basic STAR exemptions are only available on the primary residence of a homeowner with an annual income under $500,000 and exempt the first $30,000 of the full property value of a home from school taxes.
According to Heinbockel, residents who are currently eligible to receive basic STAR benefits receive a tax exemption of approximately $1,007.
Following a recent state audit, which found that homeowners falsely claiming STAR exemptions could end up costing taxpayers tens of millions, state lawmakers passed a new law this year requiring new registration procedures to help deter improper STAR exemption claims.
“We cannot allow a few dishonest individuals to disrupt this valuable tax break for honest homeowners,” state Assemblyman David Buchwald, a Democrat, said. “Protecting the STAR program from fraud and abuse allows these savings to continue to help families keep more money in their pockets.”
By imposing a new re-registration process, the state hopes to weed out any false or improper claims for the tax relief program. According to Heinbockel, the state determined if it can catch just 1 percent of the fraud, it will save the state a significant amount of money.
“We want to get out in front of this,” Heinbockel said. He said Harrison residents should stay aware of changes to the state program.
Currently, taxpayers whose STAR exemptions are revoked by their local tax assessor, if the exemption has been inappropriately granted in the past, may be subject to a penalty if the homeowner is found making a fraudulent application.
In addition to the changes to the application process, the STAR program will also impose stiffer penalties for anyone accused of fraud in 2014.
Heinbockel said applicants registering for the state’s STAR benefits program will need to answer four pointed questions to prove whether they are applicable for basic STAR. Homeowners must provide the names and social security numbers of all owners of the property, state whether or not the property is their primary residence, whether or not they enjoy STAR or any similar residency-based tax benefit elsewhere, and whether or not their income is less than $500,000 a year.
Although those already receiving STAR benefits will need to re-register, first-time applicants and seniors receiving enhanced STAR benefits will not be affected.
Those registered to receive enhanced STAR benefits from the state—which offers tax relief for homeowners 65 years old or older making $81,900 or less a year—will need to file renewal applications with the town in order to continue to enjoy enhanced STAR benefits.