It’s hard to know whether the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who apparently haven’t re-registered for their STAR exemption are waiting until the last minute (the end of this month), or simply haven’t heard that they’re supposed to. We’d like to think it’s more procrastination than ignorance, but either way it seems likely that a good number of New Yorkers who’ve been getting relief on their school tax bills amounting to hundreds of dollars every year are about to stop.
New York will reap a windfall when that happens, since it makes school districts whole for the tax relief STAR provides, which may explain why the state isn’t as committed as it might be to reaching every last deserving taxpayer who now gets STAR. Oh, it made an effort to alert everybody with a mailing earlier this year that was, in the words of Fulton County director of real property tax service Peter Galarneau, so “generic-looking” it may have been mistaken for junk mail. (Taxpayers could hardly be blamed for doing so, given how authentic-looking some junk mail has become these days.) But it hasn’t really done much follow-up, leaving that task to local assessors.
And when one frustrated assessor asked the state to provide a list of the people in his town who hadn’t yet re-upped, he was told he’d have to wait until the deadline had passed to get it. Clearly, the state has a financial interest in taxpayers not getting their STAR.
Based on Thursday’s Gazette story, between 65 percent and 83 percent of the region’s homeowners have re-registered. If there is no last-minute rush and those percentages hold statewide, the state will save anywhere from one-third to one-fifth of the program’s current $3.2 billion cost. Either way, it will be a lot of money. And either way, it won’t be fair to the taxpayers who, for one reason or another, won’t play the game right and will miss out. Sort of like the handful of tax-exempt organizations in Schenectady that failed, despite repeated warnings, to re-apply for tax-exempt status when a new assessor decided they should have to.
We’ve been wondering about the whole premise behind STAR recently, and this experience only serves to solidify our impression that the state, and its taxpayers, would be better off throwing in the towel on STAR. Yes, school tax relief is badly needed, but when the money for it comes directly from state coffers, why bother with a shell game that has to cost in the tens of millions simply to administer?