Capital Region

Seniors have new STAR procedures to follow

State tax and finance department will verify income information directly
Senior citizens applying for the annual Enhanced STAR school property tax exemption have a new procedure to follow this year.
Senior citizens applying for the annual Enhanced STAR school property tax exemption have a new procedure to follow this year.

CAPITAL REGION – Senior citizens applying for the annual Enhanced STAR school property tax exemption — hundreds of thousands of homeowners statewide — have a new procedure to follow this year.

They’re being required to fill out a form allowing the state Department of Taxation and Finance to verify their income qualifies them for the exemption — a process that has been handled by local municipal assessors until now.

It will be a change for many people, but not for others, who have already enrolled to let the state verify their income. In 2019, the exemption will be available to seniors whose household income is $86,300 or less.

With thousands of people effected statewide, word of the change is starting to spread. A notice advising people of the change was included in the most recent bi-monthly newsletter of the Scotia-Glenville Senior Citizens.

“There’s some discussion, but people are not overly concerned since a number of us have already given consent to have their income forms checked by the state,” said Ron Brach, president of the organization. “But it does not mean people shouldn’t be informed of the opportunity to talk to their assessor about this matter.”

The Enhanced STAR exemption is available to property owners age 65 or older, and has been in effect for years. The change is that applicants must enroll in the state’s Income Verification Program to receive the exemption, which results in their receiving a reimbursement check from the state for part of their school tax bill.

In the past, local municipal assessors have verified income by reviewing an applicant’s tax returns. Once seniors enroll in the income verification system, they will no longer need to recertify their income or submit tax returns annually to the assessor’s office, state officials said.

Enrolling in the income verification system has been optional in the past, but became mandatory under a law passed last year. About half of the 640,000 qualified seniors in the state are already enrolled.

“We’re getting a lot of questions, but for people already in the system, it won’t have any impact,” said Rotterdam Town Assessor Brad Canning, who administers nearly 2,200 Enhanced STAR exemptions. “We’re already verifying their income, and now state Tax and Finance is going to be doing that.”

People enrolling in the income verification system will need to give the assessor their social security number — information state officials and local assessors said will be handled confidentially.

“Assessors transmit the information to us through secure methods to protect taxpayer privacy,” said James Gazzale, a spokesman for the state tax department. “We continuously reminded assessors of the confidentiality of that information and advised them to destroy the forms once they have been entered in our system.”

Ballston Town Assessor Peter A. Hotaling said he believes the roots of the new law are in an state audit a few years ago that found inaccuracies in STAR exemption records, particularly in communities with a lot of real estate sales.

“The ones that are now done in-house will need to be entered into the state system,” Hotaling said. “(Applicants) don’t like giving their social security number. But we transmit it to the state in a secure system, and then we destroy it.”

Gazzale said there are multiple benefits for taxpayers, including that in future years they will automatically receive the exemption if their income qualifies them. Therefore, taxpayers no longer will need to reapply each year, he noted.

People who now receive an Enhanced STAR exemption but aren’t already enrolled in the Income Verification Program must fill out forms called Form RP-425-Rnw and Form RP-425-IVP. People applying for a STAR exemption for the first time must fill out a separate form, Form RP-425-E.

The state is spreading the word early, since the deadline for applications is March 1 in most communities.

The STAR exemption — the acronym stands for School Tax Assessment Relief — reduces a school property tax bill, and is available to homeowners on their primary residence. Homeowners age 65 or older qualify for enhanced STAR, which saves them addition money on the school tax bill.

Whether a property is a primary residence is determined by voting address, vehicle registration address, and length of time spent at the property each year, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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