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State STAR registration hits snag with Amish

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CANTON - A new state procedure that requires homeowners to re-register for the Basic STAR tax exemption has hit a snag with the Amish who resist using telephones, computers and social security numbers.

The process requires property owners receiving the STAR exemption to re-register for the program online or by telephone and requires a Social Security number or alternative identification number provided by the state. Registration started Aug. 19 and extends to Dec. 31.

Most Amish across the state, including several groups in the north country, claim their religious beliefs don’t allow their members to have Social Security numbers. Rules vary among groups, but many communities restrict the use of telephones to emergency situations, like calling a hospital or a physician. Computer use is rare.

“I definitely don’t like it,” said Joseph E. Hostetler, an Amish bishop who resides at 321 Old-Canton Road, DeKalb Junction. “We’ll have to see what we can work out.”

Enos Hershberger, another Amish homeowner, said he may not reapply for the exemption if it requires him to use a telephone, even if someone else makes the call on his behalf.

“The only reason I want to use the phone is an emergency. This is not an emergency,” Mr. Hershberger said Wednesday. “I think there’s going to be a problem with this.”

Mr. Hostetler and Mr. Hershberger said the Amish may contact state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who resides in a community with a large Amish population.

“She knows the Amish. She is acquainted with us,” Mr. Hostetler said.

Letters were mailed by the state last week to property owners in Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties, while the St. Lawrence letters are supposed to go out between Sept. 3 and 6.

The letters inform homeowners they are required to re-register if they want to continue to receive their STAR exemption starting in 2014 and extending into future years. The letters explain the process for signing up and include a STAR code that’s needed to register. Registration will not be required every year.

Registrations are through the Tax Department’s website:www.tax.ny.gov; or by calling 1-518-457-2036.

New applicants for the STAR exemption will continue to file their paperwork with their property assessor.

The state decided to make people re-register in order to reduce the number of property owners who were fraudulently getting the exemption on more than one property, on property they didn’t live in, or by earning more than the $500,000 income limit.

Amish people and others without a Social Security number should contact the state Tax Department by calling the telephone number listed on the letter, according to Cary B. Ziter, a spokesman for the state Tax Department, Albany. Amish homeowners will be assigned an internal tax identification number with the state Department of Taxation and Finance, Mr. Ziter said. Amish opposed to using the telephone can have a friend or other representative make the phone call, he said.

“They or their representative may contact our office, and we will assist them in registering,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to assist them in registering.”

Darren W. Colton, St. Lawrence County’s Real Property Tax Office director, said concern about Amish homeowners was voiced to state officials about a month ago during a conference call that included input from several area assessors.

“There’s Amish all over the county now. We were concerned about that right off the get-go,” Mr. Colton said. “The only way to register is by phone or computer, no mailing. When we first raised the issue, there was no answer.”

Since then, Mr. Colton received this response from the state Tax Department: “If a homeowner does not have a Social Security number, the homeowner or their representative should contact the Department of Taxation and Finance call center to register by telephone and indicate that they don’t have a Social Security number.”

Mr. Colton said he has forwarded that information to the 27 different assessors in St. Lawrence County.

Besides the Amish situation, Mr. Colton said he’s concerned that other county residents will fail to re-register and lose out on their STAR exemption.

“I think this is a looming disaster. The average savings is $600. If someone doesn’t register, they’re going to lose it,” he said. “My fear is people who don’t understand how to register or just don’t get it done will lose their exemption.”

Senior citizens receiving Enhanced STAR exemptions are not affected by the change. That program already requires annual registration, or participation in the department’s income verification program.

This year, Enhanced STAR exempts the first $63,300 of the full value of a home from school taxes for property owners aged 65 or older whose combined adjusted income does not exceed $81,900.

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