In 1998, after receiving a "bill" for zero dollars and zero cents for the prior year's school taxes, some New York State property owners wrote checks to the government in that amount. They were convinced that a clerical error had been made, and felt compelled to raise attention to the matter. In fact, there was no error.
These property owners had a number of things in common: they had a primary residence in New York State, were over the age of 65 and had yearly household incomes that were below the statewide average. As a result, they were eligible for a tax abatement that, combined with other state and local tax relief, exempted them from all school taxes. Called STAR (a loose acronym for the School Tax Relief program), this program was proposed by Governor George E. Pataki in 1995 and enacted two years later.
Touted as the largest piece of tax relief legislation ever passed in New York State, the STAR program effectively phased out school taxes for residents of New York State by 2001 and saved them over $2 billion by the time the program was fully implemented. The school taxes formerly paid by resident taxpayers is now reimbursed by the state under STAR. The program's various incarnations apply to property owners who maintain a primary residence in New York State, and enhanced benefits are offered to low-income seniors. All New Yorkers who own and live in a one-, two, or three-family home, condominium or co-op apartment, mobile home or farm home are eligible.
The Basic STAR exemption, according to the state's Office of Real Property Services, is available for owner-occupied primary residences regardless of the owner's age or income. Basic STAR exempts the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school property taxes.
For seniors, Enhanced STAR is available for residents age 65 and older whose yearly household incomes do not exceed the statewide maximum average. For 2003 assessment rolls, the combined applicants' income may not exceed $62,100. Enhanced STAR exempts the first $50,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. To qualify at least one of the property owners or their siblings must be 65 years of age.