ITHACA, N.Y. — All seniors who receive the Enhanced STAR Exemption must sign up for an income verification program. It’s no longer optional.

There are 1,750 seniors in Tompkins County that need to sign up, according to Jay Franklin, county director of assessment.

A provision in the 2018-19 New York State Budget Bill requires that all senior citizens that receive the Enhanced STAR Exemption, a school tax relief program, participate in the Income Verification Program. Previously, it was optional. Over the years, Tompkins County has signed up about 2,800 seniors for the IVP, but has 1,750 more to sign up.

Tompkins County will be sending out pre-filled IVP applications Friday to all seniors who have not signed up. Seniors are encouraged to file the form by Sept. 1. Failing to do that will mean more forms to fill out during the normal exemption process.

Who’s eligible? What’s Enhanced STAR versus Basic STAR? Here’s a quick guide to understanding the STAR Exemption.

1 — What is the Enhanced STAR Exemption?

There are different types of STAR exemptions, but they are school tax relief programs. The benefit applies only to school district taxes, not county, town or city taxes. The Basic STAR exemption is available for owner-occupied, primary residences where household income is less than $500,000.

The Enhanced STAR Exemption (which is what this article applies to) provides an increased benefit to eligible seniors. To be eligible in 2019, property owners must be 65 or older in 2019 (they can turn 65 in 2019) and have a combined income under $86,300. Residents can also apply for the 2019 Low-Income Senior if they meet the same age requirements and have an income under about $37,400.

Seniors close to one of these income limits are encouraged to contact the Tompkins County Department of Assessment as New York’s definition of “income” is not always consistent.

Local assessors do not have control over granting any STAR Exemptions, either basic or enhanced. In a news release, the assessment department said, “While the Tompkins County Department of Assessment will be more than willing to help property owners fill out the IVP application, we unfortunately will not be able to assist in all cases.”

Eligibility is determined by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

2 — What does the exemption do?

STAR provides a partial exemption from school taxes. The Enhanced or Basic STAR exemption is the amount your assessment will be reduced before school taxes are levied. In Tompkins County, the enhanced exemption for 2018-19 is $67,760 and the basic exemption is $30,430.

So, if someone in Tompkins County has the Enhanced STAR exemption and lives in a home assessed at $150,000, school taxes will be paid on a taxable assessment of $82,240.

The maximum STAR exemption savings in Tompkins County is about $600 for the basic exemption and $1,200 for enhanced.

For people who are eligible, the exemption comes off their tax bill.

3 — How do you apply for the exemption?

Visit the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to register online and learn more. Property owners without access to a computer can register by phone from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

4 — What is the Income Verification Program?

The program allows eligible homeowners who apply or re-apply to Enhanced STAR to authorize the state to verify their income based on their New York State personal income tax return in subsequent years. It was previously optional to enter the Income Verification Program, but is now required.

5 — Questions about all of this?

Contact the Tompkins County Department of Assessment at 607-274-5517 or by email at assessment@tompkins-co.org.

CORRECTION (1:40 p.m. June 18): An earlier version of this article stated that people who are eligible receive their STAR savings by check directly from New York State. However, that does not apply to the Enhanced STAR exemption. The exemption is deducted from their tax bill.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.