NY’s senior tax breaks just got even more confusing, seniors likely to lose out this year
Seniors earning less than $50,000 a year can halve their property taxes under a new state law.
But only if they live in a county, city, village or school district that chooses to apply the state to the new higher income limit by March 1.
The new law could save thousands of dollars a year in a state with some of the highest property taxes in the country. For most, however, the clunky launch will make that unlikely this year.
An already bewildering tax break for low-income seniors has been made worse. And now the stakes are higher.
For years, the state has allowed local governments to offer a 50% property tax exemption to households whose owners are over the age of 65 and earn less than $37,000 a year. Now the maximum household income has been raised to $50,000.
There is also an option that allows local governments and schools to use a tiered scale that offers smaller tax breaks to people earning up to $58,400 a year.
Scriba’s Richard Bowman was hoping to take advantage of the new higher limit.
He went to the city assessor to prove his income and fill out the application.
Unlike the state’s Enhanced STAR program, seniors must provide proof of income to city assessors each year to qualify for the local senior exemption. Each city requires different documentation and sets its own rules about what counts as income.
The exemption would save him about $1,000 a year.
Instead, Bowman was dismissed.
That’s because Oswego County, the City of Scriba, and the Oswego School District have not passed local laws and ordinances to opt for the new higher income amounts.
The same is true of Onondaga County and most school districts and communities in the area.
Because of the way the system is set up, it is possible for a taxpayer to have different income limits for four different tax assessments – county, city, village and school district.
For example, the city of Manlius has enacted a local law applying the higher income limit. But the Fayetteville-Manlius School District, Onondaga County and Villages have not, said Assessor Patrick Duffy.
The tax authorities have until March 1 to make a decision. And once they do, taxpayers have until March 1 to sign up, too.
There is no single place to find out where each church stands. Taxpayers need to check with any city appraiser.
Why wouldn’t local government officials approach the state about a new law that would save thousands of dollars for seniors?
Because for some taxpayers, granting a property tax rebate shifts the cost to other property owners in the city or school district.
This is unlike the other property tax credit for seniors, called Enhanced STAR. This is a state tax relief program for schools and all costs are borne by the entire state budget. The neighbors next door don’t suffer a higher property tax burden by giving the seniors a break.
Local government officials hesitate, not knowing how many seniors would suddenly be eligible for a 50 percent reduction in property taxes. They do not have access to state income tax records.
Duffy said the state tax agency denied his request for that type of information, even in summary form with no taxpayer names attached.
Duffy said the City of Manlius is sending postcards to people it has identified through other income-based programs to let them know about the new law.
Another new state law requires cities to notify seniors twice a year and within 30 days of the deadline when tax credits are available.
In Scriba, Bowman said he was about to turn 70 and that no one ever called him to tell him about a tax break.
“I think seniors should be notified twice a year to see if they qualify, and I think they should go for the highest income if they really want to help seniors,” he said.
He said he has called for help from elected officials from the county legislature to the governor and even members of Congress.
“You always see her beating someone up on TV, but how about you help someone out?” he said.
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The phone number for STAR questions at the State Revenue Service is 518-457-2036.
Contact Michelle Breidenbach | [email protected] | 315-470-3186.