WATERTOWN - Homeowners in Jefferson County receiving property tax exemptions through the school tax relief, or STAR, program are lagging slightly behind those in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties when it comes to registering for the program. The deadline to register for the program is Dec. 31.
The STAR program exempts homeowners from the first $30,000 of the full value of an owner-occupied, primary residence where the resident owner and spouse have combined income of less than $500,000 a year.
According to the state tax department, taxpayers save an average of $700 a year through the program.
In Jefferson County, 76 percent of resident owners participating in the program have registered, compared with 78 percent in Lewis and 79 percent in St. Lawrence.
Paul J. Warneck, director of Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services, attributes the lower response rate to the high percentage of military service members in the area.
We have lots of soldiers and military families, Mr. Warneck said. With deployments, some military families with STAR exemptions may not have received their notices.
New York has launched an extensive public relations campaign to inform homeowners receiving the exemptions that they need to register with the state for the first time in the programs 15-year history.
The state is cracking down on homeowners who may have registered multiple homes for the exemption in the past.
Homeowners have until the end of the year to register their exemptions either online through www.tax.ny.gov or by phone at 518-457-2036. The state tax department is offering extended hours through Dec. 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
There are approximately 2.7 million eligible homeowners in the state, according to the Department of Taxation and Finance. More than 2 million of them have already registered for the exemption, according to Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Thomas H. Mattox.
Mr. Warneck said that those who fail to meet the Dec. 31 deadline would have to pay the full value of their property taxes, though they may still be able to get a refund if they qualify for the exemption.
But the process to secure that refund has not been defined yet and Mr. Warneck said that his office would prefer to see homeowners register ahead of time to avoid the bureaucratic headache they would have to endure if they fail to meet the end of the year deadline.
Homeowners 65 and older who are receiving enhanced STAR are not affected by the registration.
Mr. Warneck said that his office has done outreach to let owners know about the necessity to register and that state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has hosted STAR registration events.
At the request of Sen. Ritchie, the tax department will be holding a registration workshop from 4 to 6 p.m. next Wednesday at the Evans Mills Public Library, 8706 Noble St.
There are still more than 14,000 homeowners in Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties who need to register for the program, Sen. Ritchie said in a news release.
Quite candidly, I dont know what else the towns, assessors, counties and even the senators office can do at this point, Mr. Warneck said.
According to the state tax department, the only municipality in the state that has a 100 percent registration rate for its homeowners receiving STAR exemptions is the town of Red House in Cattaraugus County. Red House has only 38 residents, according to the 2010 census.
The municipality with the most unregistered basic STAR recipients is New York City, where 226,038 recipients have not yet registered. Only 60 percent of STAR recipients in New York City have registered thus far.