With recent changes in the state’s school tax relief program, also known as STAR, many senior citizens, such as West Hempstead resident and retired salesman Gary Lee, could miss out on tax-saving opportunities.
“As a senior and a retiree, I love living here,” Lee, 67, said. “But it gets harder and harder every year to stay and we need the benefits that the STAR program provides for us. Let’s bring these issues to light. Let’s have an honest, open dialogue as to where we really stand.”
Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin held a news conference outside of Lee’s home, urging the Nassau County Assessor and the state Department of Taxation and Finance to publicly detail the impending changes.
“The lack of details are frustrating,” Clavin said. “There are so many unanswered questions about the procedure. There is going to be mass confusion about how you’re going to maintain your program, and how there’s a possibility to lose your program.”
Under the STAR program, which was implemented in 1997, eligible homeowners have received a partial exemption from school property taxes. In addition to reduced property taxes, local school districts received a check from the state to ensure no revenue loss. Basic eligibility stipulated that the recipient’s gross adjusted income must be $500,000 or below and that the subject property has to be the primary residence of the applicant.
The program first underwent changes in 2016, requiring those who bought homes after Aug. 1, 2015 to receive a tax credit check from the state instead of a reduction in their school tax bills. This year, the state legislature made additional changes to the STAR program, in which people who earn between $250,000 and $500,000 are ineligible for the property tax exemption and mandating that they apply for the STAR property tax credit check in its place. Those who earn below $250,000 have the option to continue receiving the property tax exemption in the form of a reduced property tax bill. However, Clavin explained these homeowners will see their STAR savings frozen starting this year, while those who switch over to the tax credit check are eligible to receive an annual increase in their STAR credit check of up to two percent.
“Homeowners should not be in the dark about these important changes to the STAR program,” said State Assemblyman Ed Ra, in a news release. “Unfortunately, this STAR debacle is nothing more than a mechanism employed by Albany democrats to help their budget, which is being balanced unfairly on the backs of hardworking homeowners.”
The state also has approved changes to the Enhanced STAR program, a school tax property tax exemption that offers greater savings to eligible senior citizens. For the most part, people 65 and older whose gross income is below $86,300 this year are eligible for the exemption on their primary residence. But the new changes require seniors to go through a lengthy income verification process. Enhanced STAR homeowners can continue to receive their school tax savings in the form of a partial property tax exemption, or they can choose to switch to the credit program to receive annual increases to their STAR benefit of up to two percent.
“These new STAR changes are decidedly taxpayer-unfriendly,” said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello. “The governor and state legislative majorities have quietly made bureaucratic changes to the STAR program, which will require that many residents take action or lose their property tax savings. The Nassau County Assessor must explain to the public how these changes will be implemented and finally hold Town Hall forums throughout our county to answer our residents’ many questions.”
Clavin told the Herald that because assessors upstate have voiced their concerns, Nassau County residents are not alone. “Other jurisdictions throughout the state are just as concerned, but they’re more vocal,” Clavin said.
Lee has lived with his wife, Elizabeth, in West Hempstead for 13 years. While their children are no longer in the school district, Lee said he hopes that something will be done to support seniors.
“It’s unfortunate that the seniors are the ones who are forced to bear, and not even burden the schools tax,” Lee said. “All I want out of the government is transparency.”