Greece, N.Y. --- A recent state audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli discovered widespread waste in the School Tax Relief or STAR program.
The property tax discounts are typically based on age, income, or military veteran status and the programs deliver millions of dollars in savings to homeowners each year.
State Comptroller DiNapoli’s audit showed that nearly 20%, or one in five, STAR program exemptions where either improper or duplicates.
"That figure is very high,” said Greece Town Assessor Leo Carroll. “It goes into the millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted taxpayer dollars that are actually going to the benefit of a few."
The STAR forms aren’t filled out annually but rather when properties are purchased or when your STAR exemption status changes. The rebate should only apply to your primary residence, not a rental or vacation property. It is up to the homeowner to make sure the information on the STAR application is correct but the audit shows that is not always the case.
"The old double-dipping on the exemptions,” Carroll said of the most common abuse of the system. “Is all of it defrauding the government? Not necessarily. There are a number of cases that take place where individuals sell their homes, they buy a new home, and in reality it's not followed-up through the local communities."
That is sort of what happened to Republican New York State Senator Catharine Young of Olean who also represents Livingston County. Sen. Young was receiving STAR exemptions on two properties for more than a decade; one being her home in Olean and the other being a condo in the Town of North Greenbush near Albany.
When this was brought to Senator Young’s attention she quickly learned the situation involved a prior exemption on the condo and no “affirmative action taken” by Sen. Young or her husband according to the North Greenbush assessor who accepted half the blame.
This week Senator Young paid back the difference in full and no wrongdoing is alleged. Yet her situation is one that highlights the Comptroller’s recommendations for better state oversight, a comprehensive and easy-to-use database for municipalities, and the use of technology to better detect improper exemptions.
"Often times we catch it here in our office by going through and looking at the mailing addresses of the individuals that might be filing for a new exemption," said Carroll. Adding that often the offenders his office finds have Florida mailing addresses.
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