In My Opinion: How to trust what you read online

Billy JonesCommentary 

High property taxes can be a huge barrier to financial security for hardworking New York families and those living on a fixed income.

In fact, school taxes can account for as much as 60 percent of New York residents’ overall property tax bill. The School Tax Relief (STAR) Program offers homeowners much-needed property tax savings.

I want to make sure you’re aware of some notable changes to the program that go into effect this year so you don’t miss out on important information.

North Country residents currently enrolled in the STAR exemption program who have an annual income of less than $250,000 can see their benefit increase by as much as 2 percent each year if they switch to the STAR credit program.

According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, under the updated system, homeowners will receive direct savings ahead of their school tax bill in the form of a check.

The deadline to make the switch is July 1 — you can register online for the STAR credit program with the State Department of Taxation and Finance after contacting your local assessor to withdraw from the exemption.

Property owners without access to a computer can register by phone weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 518-457-2036.

It is important to note that homeowners with incomes under $250,000 are in no way required to do anything, and those who choose to stick with the direct exemption won’t be penalized, but they also won’t see their savings increase.

However, those who make between $250,000 and $500,000 must switch to the STAR credit program to continue receiving their savings.

The check system is already used by homeowners who earn less than $500,000 and who purchased their home after Aug. 1, 2015.

It’s important to note that these changes will not affect property owners age 65 or older who receive the Enhanced STAR benefit.

However, there is a new requirement for qualifying seniors. When applying or reapplying for the Enhanced STAR exemption, seniors currently register for the state’s income verification system with their local assessor.

With the new provisions, the Tax Department will verify income eligibility for Enhanced STAR, rather than the local assessor.

This does not affect property owners who purchased their homes after Aug. 1, 2015, nor will it change the income eligibility threshold of $86,300 or less.

About 75 percent of the approximately 650,000 seniors who receive the enhanced exemption are already enrolled in the income verification system, and once enrolled, they will automatically receive their exemption without having to reapply or provide the local assessor with copies of their tax returns each year.

Information on the income verification system can be found at www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/ivp.htm.

I encourage you to contact your local assessor or visit the State Tax Department’s website to see how these changes may apply to you.

I’ll continue fighting to keep taxes down and make sure our hardworking families can afford to stay in the communities they call home.

My office is also here to assist you in any way we can. Feel free to reach out by calling 518-562-1986 or emailing JonesB@nyassembly.gov.

Assemblyman Billy Jones represents the North Country in the New York State Assembly’s 115th District. His district office is located at 202 U.S. Oval in Plattsburgh.