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Records Show Mayor Double-Dipped on Star Exemption; French Says He Will “Make Good” on Any Error
Thursday, 08 December 2011 14:05
By Jim Byrne
At the December 7 City Council meeting, Mayor Doug French not only presided over a long agenda, but lost a “STAR” in the process.
Ray Tartaglione, along with his attorney Jordan Glass, came to the podium to report the Mayor had improperly received a New York State School Tax Relief Program (STAR) exemption on both his Rye properties from 2001-10. Mr. Tartaglione, the Hen Island provocateur, sent out an e-mail earlier in the day breaking the story through his HealtheHarbor.com website.
STAR exemptions are available to those who earn less than $500,000 and live in their own home, making Mayor French eligible for the break he receives at his 46 Meadow Place residence. City records, however, show the Mayor has accumulated at least $10,750 in STAR exemptions on the 13 Richard Place home he has rented out since the late ’90s.
When asked by Mr. Tartaglione at the Council meeting whether he intended to pay back tax breaks received “inappropriately”, Mayor French replied, “If I got an exemption that I wasn’t entitled to, absolutely.”
Late last year, State legislature passed a law putting a $500,000 income cap on STAR eligibility. All homeowners were able to receive STAR exemptions before that. When the law came into effect, every New York municipality was sent three lists: those who met the new criteria, those who did not, and “unable to determine”. City Assessor Noreen Whitty said that there were hundreds of Rye homes on the “unable to determine” list for a variety of reasons, including duplicate exemptions as in Mayor French’s case. Letters were sent to such homeowners clarifying the situation.
“From what I understand, the Assessor’s Office maintained the exemption on my previous home when we moved to our new one,” said Mayor French. “If that is the case and we were given an exemption incorrectly, of course, we will make good on any error. The Assessor’s Office will have more information and I am trying to seek that as well.”
Whitty, who is part of a two-person department in a City where over 3,000 homeowners receive either the Basic or Enhanced STAR (senior citizens) exemptions, removed Mayor French’s exemption along with many others during a “long process” through the spring and summer.
“STAR is a one-time application,” noted Whitty. “If someone bought a house in 1999, and moved to Florida in 2009 but still rented that property, they are – in theory – supposed to tell me. But, in my 21 years here, I can count on one hand the people who informed me they were moving. It’s not the first and foremost thing on their minds.”
Mayor French added, “My understanding is that the assessor will reach out to affected parties with the exact exempted amounts, so we’re waiting to hear from her office. When we moved and filed the updated STAR form we notified them of our new mailing address and figured we would not be receiving the exemption anymore.”
Regarding improper STAR tax breaks, Ms. Whitty treats everyone the same.
“STAR has been around since 1998, and when I’ve discovered these types of exemptions, it has been my policy to remove them and that’s the end of it,” she said.
The law permits the City Assessor to go back three years to recoup the money.