STAR Program changing to prevent fraud

By Matt Porter

August 19, 2013 Updated Aug 19, 2013 at 11:27 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The STAR, or School Tax Relief Program, is a tax break that more than 90 percent of homeowners in Binghamton alone use.

Jim Summerlee has owned his home on Rotary Avenue in Binghamton for more than 15 years. He said the STAR program has helped him weather the tough times.

"In today's economy, the way expenses are, any little bit helps," Summerlee said.

Homeowners are now being required to verify their income with the state. Previously income was verified by the municipalities and towns.

Households enrolled in the STAR Basic program must have incomes less than $500,000.

"I know that they claim it's to help protect us from fraud," Summerlee said, "But it seems one more level of bureaucracy that we don't need."

City of Binghamton Assessor Scott Snyder said nothing is changing from the local level.

"Our procedures have not changed at all. Our calendar stays the same," Snyder said.

Instead, the state is asking the thousands enrolled in the STAR Basic program to add one more step after an audit revealed potential waste and abuse.

"The state determined that there was fraud, some fraud, some inaccuracies and determined they would be better suited to do individual verification through their offices," he said.

People enrolled in STAR Basic will be able to verify by phone, or online at the state's tax website.

All paperwork for the state must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2013.

Snyder said questions should be referred to the state.

"We don't have any information or means of supporting this verification process," he said.

Other STAR programs including STAR Enhanced -- a program for the elderly with low incomes -- and programs for the disabled are not affected by the change.

The state will be mailing information this month to affected homeowners and you can also visit the new STAR registration website for more information.