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State alters STAR filing plan for Amish

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CANTON — The state has agreed to allow Amish homeowners to reregister for the Basic STAR exemption by mailing in a form, rather than signing up online with a computer or by telephone.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, lives in a community that is heavily populated by Amish families and is accustomed to advocating for the religious group, which shuns technology and clings to centuries-old traditions.

This week she interceded on their behalf regarding registration for the Basic STAR tax exemption through the state Department of Taxation and Finance. The STAR program provides homeowners with a $30,000 assessment reduction on their school taxes.

“They have agreed to create a paper form for the Amish community,” Ms. Ritchie said. “They were receptive to finding another solution.”

Geoffrey T. Gloak, a spokesman for the Tax Department, said assessors and county property tax directors from across the state have been notified that paper forms are now available for homeowners that don’t have computers or telephones.

“We’re glad to provide those forms to individuals and to the local assessors,” Mr. Gloak said Friday.

Those who want to write to the state Tax Department can address correspondence to: NYS Tax Department, Building 8A, WA Harriman Campus, Albany, N.Y. 12227, Attn: STAR registration.

Assessors also have the option of providing the state Tax Department with names and addresses of Amish and others who may not have computers or telephones. In those cases, letters from the state would be directly sent to those homeowners.

“Some assessors have already chosen to do this,” Mr. Gloak said.

Whenever possible, he encouraged people to sign up by telephone or electronically.

“Handling these by mail is much more labor intensive for our department,” Mr. Gloak said.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the department said Amish would have to find someone else to telephone or use the computer for them if they objected to reregistering that way.

An Amish man who owns a home in Morristown said he’s pleased the state has provided an option that better suits the religious beliefs of his community. He declined to give his name when approached in Canton on Friday morning while shopping with his wife.

“I’m glad they set it up so we can do it by mail,” he said. “This way we can continue to do things the way we have.”

While most people will be asked to supply a Social Security number, the state is waiving that requirement for the Amish because they don’t have them. Registration started Aug. 19 and ends Dec. 31.

The filing takes effect in 2014 and homeowners will not have to reregister every year.

Two years ago, the Amish had a similar problem when the state Tax Department wanted them to file their sales taxes electronically. Eventually, the state agreed to exempt the Amish from electronic filing and allowed them to send in their sales tax information by mail.

With an estimated 15,000 Amish living in various parts of New York state, Ms. Ritchie said the north county is not the only region affected by the state’s decision. Chautauqua County in Western New York has a large number of Amish families, and a growing number are moving to Oneida County and surrounding areas.

“I’m sure we’re not the only area where they were going to have problems,” she said.

After the new forms are created, Ms. Ritchie said, copies will be mailed to local assessors in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties who can make them available to Amish community members.

Agri-Mark Inc., a dairy cooperative, also has agreed to provide the STAR forms to about 100 Amish farmers, Ms. Ritchie said. Several Amish dairy farmers deposit their milk in Agri-Mark’s bulk cooling tanks.

“We’ll be doing some other outreach to get the word out,” Ms. Ritchie said. “In the Amish community there’s definitely a lot of transfer of information by word of mouth.”

The average homeowner saves $600 a year through the STAR program, and Ms. Ritchie said she wants to make sure Amish and non-Amish residents take the time to reregister so they don’t lose out.

“This is not a little thing. This is a big deal for everyone,” she said.

She said Amish or others who need help reregistering for STAR can receive assistance at either of her north country offices, in the basement of Ogdensburg City Hall at 330 Ford St., Ogdensburg, or at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St., Watertown. The Ogdensburg office can be reached at 393-3024.

The Watertown number is 782-3418.

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