Property Tax Relief Bill Co-Sponsored by Assemblywoman Jenne Passes State Assembly
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne announced legislation (A.5969) she co-sponsored to return the administration of the state’s School Tax Relief (STAR) program passed the state Assembly Wednesday afternoon by a unanimous 124-0 vote.
The legislation would reverse the changes made last year when the administration of the program was turned over to the state's Department of Taxation and Finance.
Before last year, all eligible homeowners saw an annual reduction in their school tax bill. Now, all new homeowners – those buying their first home and those who moved to a different home – have to pay their full school tax bill but receive a rebate check from the state.
Homeowners with existing STAR exemptions are continuing to receive the exemption and for the Enhanced STAR exemption when eligible. But new applicants - those who purchased their homes after Aug. 1, 2015 - are now required to seek a credit issued in the form of a check.
Last year's state budget resulted in the changes in the administration of the STAR system that saw new property owners getting checks in the mail rather than simply having the amount covered by their exemption removed from their school tax bill.
Those checks were supposed to arrive in the fall before property owners paid their school taxes in September in the North Country, but the state was unable to meet that deadline.
"When we made the change, we were assured the shift would make the program more efficient and effective and provide mandate relief. It is clear that did not happen. The change took a program that was easing the burden on property owners in the state and turned it into a nightmare," Assemblywoman Jenne said.
"Proposals to add the administration of the Enhanced STAR program to the state's Department of Taxation and Finance in the coming year would only add to the challenges we have seen in the past year and would place an undue and unnecessary burden of our state's senior members," she added.
"Our seniors in many, many cases rely on the assistance of the local assessor in registering and recertifying to earn the benefits of the Enhanced STAR program they are eligible to receive. Many would struggle to get or maintain the benefits they have earned if administration of the program is moved to the state," Assemblywoman Jenne.
The assemblywoman, who has been voicing her concerns about the STAR program since the beginning of session, said her vote to sunset the STAR credit program and reopen the STAR Exemption program to new applicants came following concerns she has heard from constituents and local assessors over the past several months.
The STAR Exemption program, which provides an immediate reduction in property owners' tax liability, is the most convenient form of real property tax relief in that it provides the relief upfront.
"I know property owners in the North Country that were impacted by the change to the STAR credit program in year one didn't receive their tax rebate checks until weeks and weeks and in most cases months after their school tax bills were due. The Department of Taxation and Finance has been unable to provide any assurances that will change down the road," Assemblywoman Jenne said.
"This puts the heaviest burden on our young families, elderly and low-income home owners who already face economic challenges in the North Country and are among those hit hardest when they have to pay their tax bills out of pocket before receiving their rebate checks," she said.
Michael Ward, assessor for the towns of Massena, Norfolk and Clifton in St. Lawrence County, praised the assembly bill calling for the STAR program to be returned to the administrative structure that had been followed since it was initiated in 1998 until last year.
"The process used last year was horrible. The taxpayers were angry, and the assessors were constantly under fire from people looking for checks. It was a complete mess," he said.
"Everything worked well in the past. The assessors communicate with each other and find duplicates, if they exist. If there is an error, it is easily corrected and the homeowner receives a corrected bill quickly," Mr. Ward added.
He said he had seen firsthand the challenges the new system placed on property owners in the communities he serves.
"My worst experience was an 85-year-old woman whose Enhanced STAR had been removed in error by the previous assessor. Normally I would have been able to correct this and get her a new bill with her STAR savings within a week," according to Mr. Ward.
He said Department of Taxation and Finance was unable to make the immediate correction and indicated they considered her a new STAR recipient meaning she was not be eligible for the STAR exemption on her school tax bill and was placed in the new program requiring her to wait months for a rebate check.
"This long-time property owner, through no fault of her own, was forced to borrow money from her daughter to pay her school tax bill this year. Her check didn't come until December and that was after phone calls were made to Tax and Finance from my office, staff at our county's Real Property Tax Office and even the director of that office," Mr. Ward said.