TAX SCRAMBLE NIGHTMARE HITS HOMEOWNERS
By Edie Johnson
Local residents have been scrambling to town halls this week and today the Town of New Windsor’s Assessor’s Office said “Oh yeah, we’re getting a ‘gazillion’ calls.” She added that the calls should not even really be coming to her office. Tax calls should actually be going to the “Receiver of Taxes” , a separate office. Some town offices have lines out their doors today with residents hoping that by paying a portion of their property taxes early (by the end of 2017, which in most towns is tomorrow afternoon), they will thereby be eligible to exempt more than the $10,000 which the new Federal Tax Code will allow for exemption. Just days ago New York’s Governor, Anthony Cuomo, realizing the hardship this limit on exemptions would entail, passed a new law that would allow a portion of property taxes for 2018 to be paid in 2017, thus preserving full exemption if the payments are divided.
Town of Newburgh’s Supervisor, Gil Piaquadio, has another recommendation to help take the burn off of the new Tax Code’s burden on New Yorkers. In a letter to Governor Cuomo this week, Piaquadio again stressed the importance of shifting at least some of the heaviest tax portion (that of School Taxes). This, he said, could be done by saving a portion of the state’s sales tax collection in a separate fund to cover at least a portion of school taxes, which total about 70% of most residents’ homeowner taxes. Westchester County, he said, has found some success with this. New York is one of only 10 states that burden residents with school taxes this way.
With the Federal Tax Code just coming into play and many of its finer points still unclear, it’s a steep ask for both residents and officials to determine whether an individual’s assessment is officially ready (estimates are not allowed), not to mention the effort of determining what other exemptions they might qualify for in a tax year they have not yet prepared, and whether their family budget can afford the steep immediate cost of an early pay. With New York State vying with New Jersey for one of the top spots in the Nation for both property taxes and school taxes, as well as high median personal income taxes, it’s a virtual Tsunami of math calculations for families to calculate in barely a week’s time, and especially considering that lower middle class residents with less income but still carrying high property taxes will likely be hit the hardest. Most are busy at work and often at a significant distance from their home towns and are finding it a real challenge to determine whether they are eligible and whether they can come up with a huge early payment on such short notice. Some are just praying that their mailed-in payments will qualify.
To make matters worse, some of the finer legal details of this “early pay option” are still being worked out. For instance, word on the street is that #1 There has to be a recent official property assessment for a homeowner to qualify #2 The property tax amount must be exact. It cannot be an estimate. And #4 There may be legal challenges to the “early payment option”.
Local town assessors and tax receivers are working overtime this week trying to accommodate concerned citizens.
If you want definite answers to these and other questions, start now, be ready to multitask, and if possible have an ear bud for your phone, because the chances are pretty good that you may be greeted by either a busy signal, a request to call back, or some 80’s Musak while “on hold”.