While the order, issued under the governor’s emergency powers and signed Friday, will allow a municipality to adopt the change at its discretion, it isn’t an automatic stay of the application process for everyone.
Still, the state assessors’ association estimates as many as 140,000 property owners could be impacted by not having to reapply for an exemption they currently hold.
Cuomo acted after municipal assessors and other town-level officials urged him to waive the requirement, out of concern that senior citizens, who are particularly vulnerable to serious complications if they get COVID-19, could be taking a risk by coming to a town hall to file the application. The exemption applies to disabled people with low incomes, as well as seniors.
The New York State Assessors Association had asked state senators to lobby Cuomo to suspend the requirement that seniors file or renew their exemptions in January. A Hudson Valley legislator, Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland County, introduced legislation to suspend it.
The exemption, for up to half of the municipal tax bill due in late January, is available to any homeowner age 65 or older who meets low-income criteria, which generally means earning less than $30,000 per year — or higher, in some circumstances.
Normally, the exemption must be renewed annually, with the senior citizen or disabled person submitting a copy of their last income tax return, as proof that they remain low-income, though some may be able to provide electronic verification.
Cuomo’s order says a municipality may establish a procedure for its assessor to review an application anyway, if it is believed the owner or owners may have changed primary residence, added another owner to the deed, transferred the property to someone else, or died.
Glenville Supervisor Chris Koetzle was among the first to speak out on the issue, after it was brought to his attention by town assessor William Purtell. Koetzle said Purtell already tracks the deaths of people with an exemption, and the town this year could require a simple confirmation that a senior remains income-eligible.
“I think it protects the senior citizens, and we’re glad (Cuomo) did it,” Koetzle said on Saturday. “I anticipate we will pass the local law that is required, and I’m glad he did it this way — I think it should be a local decision.”
How the application process would work in 2021 was unclear, anyway, since many municipal buildings in the Capital Region — and across the state — are either closed to the public or open only by appointment, to avoid situations that could spread COVID.