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Pamelia supervisor double-dipped on housing tax exemptions in New York, Florida

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Lawrence C. Longway double-dipped on housing tax exemptions in New York state and Florida from 2005 to 2010, and legal experts say he cannot retain tax savings from both states.

The Pamelia supervisor received a STAR tax exemption for his residence at 23803 Route 37 from 2004 to 2010, according to Jefferson County assessment rolls for that period. In Hillsborough County, Fla., he has received a homestead exemption since 2005.

The Basic STAR tax exemption from the state Department of Taxation and Finance provides homeowners with a $30,000 assessment reduction on their school taxes, resulting in annual savings ranging from $200 to $450. The homestead exemption in Florida saves homeowners a minimum of $750 a year. Both programs require applicants to be considered permanent residents to receive benefits, making it impossible to get both tax breaks simultaneously.

Mr. Longway and his wife, Virginia, still receive a homestead exemption for the house they own at 1245 Acappella Lane, Apollo Beach. But Mr. Longway soon could be in hot water with the Hillsborough County property appraiser office, which is investigating the case, if it rules that Mr. Longway actually was a New York resident during years he received savings.

Depending on the evidence, Florida or New York could end up taking legal action against Mr. Longway, said William E. Shepherd, general counsel for the Hillsborough County property appraiser office. If Hillsborough County rules that Mr. Longway was not a permanent Florida resident for years he received a STAR exemption in New York, it would have the authority to recoup tax savings by placing a lien on the Longways’ Tampa Bay house. A 50 percent penalty also would be assessed for improperly exempted taxes, plus 15 percent interest per year.

“In order to claim a STAR exemption, you have to claim you’re a resident of New York, so that obviously gives us additional concern as to where Mr. Longway is claiming residency for those years,” Mr. Shepherd said. “The evidence is piling up against Mr. Longway. Either the homestead exemption down here is improper, or the exemption up there is improper. He had a New York driver’s license and voter registration for some of the years in question, so there is clearly a problem. There’s evidence going both ways, and obviously the most problematic thing is he’s claiming to be a resident in both states simultaneously. At the end of the day, he’s going to have to make a choice.”

Mr. Longway declined to comment when called Tuesday.

On his homestead exemption application submitted in 2010 for the house at 1245 Acappella Lane, Mr. Longway claimed to be a permanent Florida resident since June 1, 2004. From 2005 to 2009, the Longways received a homestead exemption for a previous home in the Tampa Bay area.

Mr. Longway has saved at least $6,000 in taxes since 2005 from the homestead exemption in Florida. By contrast, the six years he garnered STAR exemption savings in New York saved roughly $2,500 in taxes, according to reduced home assessments from 2004 to 2010 that were calculated based on the Pamelia tax rate for the General Brown Central School District.

Mr. Longway sold his Route 37 house in January, and he claimed a commercial building that he owns to be his permanent residence: Long-Park Tire at 23751 Route 342. That address was listed on a petition Mr. Longway submitted to the Jefferson County Board of Elections to run as an incumbent in the Republican primary election Tuesday. Mr. Longway defeated challenger Scott Allen 149-94.

If the New York Department of Taxation and Finance rules Mr. Longway ineligible for the STAR exemption because he was a Florida resident over that period, it could take legal action to recover tax savings. The penalty for those found to have willfully submitted erroneous information on past applications now includes a $100 penalty paid to the assessing municipality; payback for up to three years of inappropriately received benefits, plus interest; and disqualification for any STAR exemption for five years. Stiffened penalties were approved by the state for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but they will apply only to STAR benefits received by households after Oct. 1.

Geoffrey T. Gloak, a spokesman for the tax agency, said that to deter applicants from illegally receiving benefits, the STAR application warns people about fines for misrepresenting information.

“The STAR registration was put into effect to ensure that every eligible homeowner continues to receive exemptions, and caution anyone who is not a resident,” Mr. Gloak said.

Paul J. Warneck, director of Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services, said the department has assisted residents in the past who accidentally received STAR exemptions and Florida homestead exemptions at the same time. Those applicants submitted a renunciation application for the state Tax Department to recoup savings from STAR exemptions. It allowed residents to keep homestead exemptions in Florida.

If Mr. Longway “needed to renunciate STAR benefits to avoid penalties and the loss of his homestead exemption, he could make an application to repay the savings with interest. Then, in the eyes of New York state and Florida, he would be clear of any problems,” Mr. Warneck said.

But that potential solution would depend on whether Mr. Longway is determined to have willfully misrepresented information to receive the STAR exemption, Mr. Warneck said, or if it’s deemed an accident.

“In 2010, he knew he couldn’t have both exemptions and let it go away,” Mr. Warneck said. “Obviously, he took some affirmative action to get rid of it.”

And that may not solve Mr. Longway’s Florida problem, since he is on record through the Board of Elections as having been a legal resident of the town of Pamelia the entire time he claimed the homestead exemption. If Mr. Longway renounces his STAR exemption because he is a legal resident of Florida, he cannot remain as Pamelia supervisor.

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