Audit Finds ‘Double Dipping’ In State

A recent audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli showed that many New York state residents are “double dipping” the School Tax Relief program. In Chautauqua County, however, assessors have seen very few problems with this issue.

According to Randall Holcomb, assessor, following the audit, the Office of Real Property Tax Services in the New York state Department of Tax and Finance sent every municipality a list of the residents who were believed to be doubling up on STAR exemptions.

“The majority of the list that we received consisted of people that had their own residence, but had parents that had transferred the STAR exemptions from their own residences over to their children,” Holcomb said. “I’m not sure what exactly has been happening downstate, but that’s what happened in this area.”

In total, the list that Holcomb received only contained five names. Only two of those five were people who were claiming STAR exemptions in Jamestown as well as another town in Chautauqua County, with the other three being legitimate exemptions. Because of the close connections of the area assessors, however, those two cases were handled quickly.

The STAR program, which provides exemptions for households that earn less than $500,000 annually, offers roughly $3 billion in exemptions every year. The program, however, has gone mostly unchecked by the state up to this point. Some of those who have taken advantage of the program have done so by either illegally subdividing rooming houses or claiming vacation homes or weekend residences as primary homes.

“After we went through our list, I was surprised because (the state) is not going to be saving much in regard to Chautauqua County – almost everything here is legitimate,” said Holcomb. “We don’t have any landlords illegally subdividing apartments and claiming them as their primary residences. As far as that’s concerned, we don’t even really have any apartments that are using STAR exemptions.”

According to DiNapoli, faulty filings and abuses of the STAR program cost the state $13 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year. He expects losses over the next several years to reach an estimated $73 million, should the program continue to go unchecked. Holcomb, however, believes that the problem mainly rests in areas outside of Chautauqua County.

“This just hasn’t been a problem around here at all,” said Holcomb. “Generally, people aren’t going to own multiple homes in the same county anyway, but it has really been a non-issue for us.”

For more information about the STAR program, visit www.tax.ny.gov.