ALBANY -- Start looking in the mailbox again soon: Another round of property-tax rebates are coming.
And this year, the check won't cover only one tax-relief program -- it will be a rebate for two initiatives.
“Beginning later this month, we’ll mail more than 2 million property tax credit checks to qualifying New York state homeowners in localities that complied with the property tax cap," said Geoffrey Gloak, spokesman for the state Taxation and Finance Department.
The checks will cover the third and final year of a rebate program that pays back homeowners for their growth in property taxes. This fall, the rebate will be just for municipal taxes -- which will be the smallest payout in the three years.
The so-called "tax freeze" rebate will be combined in one check with a new program this year: a "property-tax relief credit."
For those eligible, the tax-relief money will be $185 for upstate residents and $130 downstate, which the program defines as the counties in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority region.
The reason for the difference payments in the tax-relief credit is that the $1.7 billion plan, approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, is designed to be tied to homeowners' incomes.
For those who qualify for both programs, the average check will be about $280, according to the state Budget Division.
"Homeowners who are eligible for both the Property Tax Freeze Credit and the Property Tax Relief Credit will receive a single check that includes both credit amounts," Gloak said.
Beginning next year, the four-year tax-relief credit will be a percentage of a homeowner’s STAR benefit, providing lower-income homeowners a higher percentage tax break, the tax department said.
The checks will only be provided in communities that adhered to the property-tax cap, which limits the growth in taxes to less than 2 percent a year.
New York City is not eligible, but the city has its own property-tax credit.
Also, there are income restrictions.
Property owners must receive a STAR or Enhanced STAR benefit, which is a $3 billion program that provides an upfront break on school taxes each fall for those whose household income is less than $500,000.
For the "property-tax relief credit," income eligibility is $275,000 or less.
The rebates are aimed at helping homeowners, who pay among the highest property taxes in the nation. The state has also lowered income-tax rates to their lowest in decades.
"These highly successful programs put more money in taxpayers' pockets, strengthen the tax cap and encourage fiscal discipline from localities," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
There may also be some outstanding tax-freeze checks from last year that homeowners might not have received. The tax department said it will be combining all remaining 2015 freeze checks under $50 into this fall's check.
The check will also come an opportune time: Just weeks before the Nov. 8 election, when all 213 state legislative seats will be on the ballot.
Democrats and Republicans are in a fight for control of the state Senate.
"People are smart enough" to recognize that the checks are an election year ploy, charged Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
The checks are important to taxpayers, countered Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif, pointing out that Republicans were the ones who returned the checks after Democrats ended them during the recession.
"Senate Republicans believe that hardworking property taxpayers need and deserve some relief," Reif said in a statement. "It's their money, and they ought to be able to spend it as they see fit."
The latest round of checks aren't the only ones going out.
For New Yorkers who bought their homes after Aug. 1, 2015, they will get their STAR rebate as a check rather than an upfront savings.
Those checks starting going out this month, too.
People who recently bought their homes needed by July 1 to register for a STAR check, which provides a rebate on a portion of school taxes.
New homeowners can still apply for the program, but their checks won't come as quickly.
This year, Legislature and Cuomo agreed to change the law so the STAR rebate is provided in a check for new homeowners.
Property owners who bought their homes before May 1, 2014, will not be affected. They will continue to receive the upfront STAR rebate in their school-tax bills.
To find more details about the property-tax-rebate checks, visit: www.tax.ny.gov.
Am I eligible?
A property must be the homeowner’s primary residence outside New York City to be eligible, and taxable household income must be $500,000 or less for the tax-freeze check.
The income level is less than $275,000 for the tax-relief check.
If you qualify for one or both, you'll get one check this fall -- averaging about $280.
Another eligibility requirement: Your local governments and schools also had to stay under the property-tax cap and develop efficiency plans.
The USA Today Network's Albany Bureau has created a database for you to search to see your taxing entities complied, here: http://bit.ly/1NthuQR
What do I have to do?
The tax department will automatically mail the checks to eligible homeowners — so you don’t have to do anything.
But you do have to register for STAR if you moved or bought a new home. You can do that here: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/register-for-star-credit.htm
Aren’t there other tax breaks and checks?
The state spends $3 billion a year on the STAR rebate, which provides a break on school taxes.
But for new homeowners or people who move, those too will be a rebate check this fall.
In 2014, the state created a Family Tax Relief Credit that provided a $350 check to New Yorkers with children under 17.
But last year and this year, the money will be a tax credit when people file their income taxes for 2015.