Saturday February 16, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- If you earn less than $500,000 and live in your own home, you’re probably eligible for the New York State School Tax Relief Program, otherwise known as the STAR exemption. Potentially knocking hundreds of dollars off local school tax bills, the deadline for applying for the STAR exemption is March 1.

There are two types of partial exemptions from school property taxes available through STAR: basic STAR, which is available for owner-occupied, primary residences where the owners’ combined income is less than $500,000, and enhanced STAR for senior citizens age 65 and older with a qualifying annual income of $79,050 or less. (Senior citizens who do not qualify for the enhanced exemption may still qualify at the basic level.)

Homeowners qualifying for basic STAR need only apply once; but enhanced STAR and other tax relief related to seniors on low incomes, disability and veteran status, and agricultural exemptions must be applied for annually. When in doubt, contact your local assessor’s officer.

The exemption only applies to school district taxes -- the single largest tax bill -- and not county, town, or other property taxes. Application forms can be picked up at local town assessors’ offices, and must be mailed or hand-delivered back to your local assessor. They’re also available online at the state Department of Taxation and Finance’s website at: www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/apply.htm.

In the town of Hoosick, the assessor’s office reported about 175 homeowners currently taking advantage of enhanced STAR exemptions, about 194 "senior" exemptions (for low income seniors with annual income below $37,399.99), and about 215 "agricultural" exemptions -- the most of any town in Rensselaer County, according to Assessor Tony Rice.

Rice said there was generally good awareness about the STAR exemption, although some of the additionally available, lesser-known exemptions can get murky. (Homeowners can be provided assistance at the assessor’s office with the correct forms and by demonstrating eligibility along the various income criteria, which this year is based on tax year 2011 income levels.)

An important thing to note is that senior citizens turning 65 at any point during the upcoming calendar year must sign-up before March 1 -- even if their birthday is later in the year.

The specific exemption amount varies based on the municipality’s equalization rate, and is the amount that your home’s assessment is reduced prior to the levy of school taxes. For example, on a property assessed at $150,000 and an enhanced STAR exemption for your municipality of $50,000, the school taxes on that property would be calculated based on a taxable assessment of $100,000.

Maximum exemption figures -- the largest amount taken off a homeowner’s tax bill -- are given on the state Department of Taxation and Finance’s website, and range from more than $500 and more than $1,000 (basic and enhanced, respectively) for homeowners within the Hoosick Falls Central School district to just under $400 to more than $700 (again, for basic and enhanced) for residents living within the Cambridge Central School district, depending on their township.