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Homeowners asked to re-register for STAR tax rebate

New York will require homeowners to re-register for

New York will require homeowners to re-register for the "STAR" property-tax rebate in an effort to crack down on fraud. Aerial view of Levittown. Credit: Newsday/ Dan Neville

ALBANY - New York will require homeowners to re-register for the STAR property-tax rebate in an effort to crack down on fraud.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers have inserted the requirement into the 2013-14 state budget that they intend to enact this week. The initiative comes after the Cuomo administration and others said they've found evidence that some homeowners were receiving improper tax benefits, such as rebates on two homes or getting rebates on second homes when their primary residence is out of state.

Budget documents published Monday also showed the plan will permanently eliminate the fee for a saltwater fishing license, reduce the price of hunting and fishing licenses, expand service at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and ensure that recipients of a new $350 "family tax relief" check receive it by Oct. 15, 2014 -- a few weeks before Cuomo and all 213 state legislators are up for re-election.

Launched under former Gov. George Pataki in 1997, the School Tax Relief Program, or STAR, can exempt a certain portion of a home's value from school taxes. Homeowners with less than $500,000 annual income are typically eligible. STAR exempts the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes, an administration official said. Annual exemptions total $2.7 billion, Cuomo officials have said.

But in December, the Cuomo administration said it found "significant evidence" of fraud. It said homeowners were double dipping when they could legally receive just one rebate. In other cases, improper beneficiaries included those with second homes in New York but an out-of-state primary residence. That potentially affects some second-home owners in areas like the Hamptons.

Further, a recent state comptroller's sampling of 6,500 parcels statewide found that nearly 20 percent improperly received STAR benefits.

The new law will create a statewide database that will allow the state and local assessors to spot fraud.

"This budget includes rigorous new oversight of the STAR Program that will root out double dippers, break down the silos that have allowed this type of abuse to occur in the first place, and protect taxpayers," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said.

Under the initiative, the state Tax Department will launch the registration program; homeowners would have until April 1, 2014, to comply. Penalties for filing false statements range from $100 to $2,500. An additional $500 "processing fee" would be imposed on transgressors.

The budget would reduce the cost of a freshwater fishing license from $29 to $22 and permanently eliminate the fee for a saltwater license. The latter was backed by Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who called it a "major victory for Long Island."

The DMV legislation clears the way for the agency to expand hours, open some offices on Saturdays and allow customers to schedule appointments online. With Joan Gralla

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