A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

One of the most beneficial property tax savings we have in New York State is the School Tax Relief Program or STAR.  The program helps make home ownership more affordable and adds extra savings for senior citizens so they can stay in their homes and communities.  I have supported STAR since its inception, and have worked to protect and grow the program.every year since.

Basic STAR is available to all New Yorkers with an income of $500,000 or less who own and live in their home.  The program exempts $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes and is available to all income eligible homeowners regardless of age.  Once you have registered to receive the STAR exemption through the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance your eligibility will automatically be reviewed each year.  As long as you continue to own and occupy your home, you will continue to receive the benefit.

Senior citizens are eligible for additional saving through the Enhanced STAR program.  One important thing to consider – if you, or your spouse, turn 65 any time this year you are eligible for Enhanced STAR.  There are also different income conditions, which are adjusted slightly each year, to keep in mind.

Currently, to be eligible for Enhanced STAR, your income must be no greater than $86,300 in the 2017 tax year.  Eligibility is based on the combined incomes of all the owners of and any owner’s spouse who resides at the property.  Income is defined as federal adjusted gross income (as reported on federal or state income tax returns) minus the taxable amount of total distributions from IRAs.

The first step in applying for the Enhanced STAR program is to submit form RP-425-IVP (Enhanced STAR application) with your local assessor.  This must be done by your local deadline to receive benefits this coming fall.  In most cases, the deadline is March 1 so the clock is ticking.

There has been an important change in the Enhanced STAR application process that I want to point out.  If you are applying or reapplying for the Enhanced STAR exemption, you must enroll in the Income Verification Program (IVP). You only need to enroll once, and you’ll receive the exemption each year, as long as you’re eligible.  If you are already enrolled in the IVP no action is required.

Approximately $3.7 billion in property tax relief was in the 2018-19 budget, including funding for the STAR and Enhanced STAR programs.  To date, STAR and Enhanced STAR have delivered significant tax relief to millions of middle-class families and senior citizens statewide.

The senate also succeeded in blocking a proposal from the governor to cap the amount of savings property owners receive for STAR.  Rejecting that scheme saved local taxpayers an estimated $50 million this year.

There is more work to do and I have continued to pursue additional strategies to help homeowners keep more of their hard-earned money.

In 2015, I joined with my senate colleagues to help establish the Property Tax Relief Credit. Over a four-year period, STAR-eligible homeowners with incomes of $275,000 or less and who reside in property tax cap-compliant school districts will receive over $3.1 billion in rebates. As part of last year’s state budget, funding for the program was doubled.  This move will lead an average rebate check of $532 – up from $380 last year – per homeowner.  I will continue to support this program moving forward and will make every effort to ensure it does not expire.

As part of the Republican “Real Solutions” budget plan, I am also calling for a phased-in, fiscally responsible state takeover of Medicaid expenses.  The savings to counties would then be delivered to homeowners in the form of property tax relief.

If you are a homeowner and aren’t already receiving STAR or Enhanced STAR I encourage you to visit the NYS Tax Department website for additional information – www.tax.ny.gov.