ALBANY -- New Yorkers should be getting rebate checks for their property taxes any day now, according to the state tax department.
The checks started going out earlier this month, and more than 34,600 have already been mailed out, the state Department of Taxation and Finance said Friday.
"We continue to process checks and will issue them on a rolling basis throughout the fall," said James Gazzale, the tax department spokesman.
The Department of Taxation and Finance is juggling three tax-rebate programs: one for new homeowners under the STAR program; the final year of a property-tax "freeze"; and the first year of another relief credit.
"Right now we're simultaneously administering three property tax-related credit programs" Gazzale said.
"We continue to process property tax freeze, property tax relief and STAR credits and will be issuing STAR and freeze/relief checks to eligible property owners on a regular basis throughout the fall."
The department initially indicated in September that the property-tax checks would start hitting mailboxes later that month.
Eligible homeowners will be receiving one check that's the combination of two programs: a rebate for the growth of their municipal taxes and $185 for upstate residents or $130 for downstate residents. Also, if homeowners were due a rebate for their taxes last year that was under $50, that will be folded in this year's check, the state has said.
The average check will be about $280, according to the state Budget Division.
The goal has been to get the checks out this fall -- particularly in advance of Election Day, when all 213 seats in the state Legislature are on the ballot.
The timing has drawn criticism from some groups, who say the tax breaks are a mere political gimmick to curry favor with voters.
"Albany has this addiction to providing rebate checks and generally they tend to come directly before an election," said Ronald Deutsch, executive director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute.
In 2014, the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo started a three-year program to provide homeowners a rebate check that's equal to their growth in property taxes, called a "tax freeze" check.
To be eligible, the school district and municipalities had to stay under the property-tax cap, which limits the growth in taxes to less than 2 percent a year.
Also, property owners must receive a STAR or Enhanced STAR benefit, which is a $3 billion program that provides a break on school taxes each fall for those whose household income is less than $500,000.
The first year, the check was for the growth in school taxes; the second year was for both school and municipal taxes; and this year's check is only for municipal taxes -- the smallest rebate of the three years.
For the "property-tax relief credit," income eligibility is under $275,000 and also require compliance with the tax cap.
The tax-relief check, approved by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2015, is a four-year program costing the state about $1.7 billion.
In subsequent years, the check will be a percentage of a homeowner’s STAR benefit.
While the future checks will provide lower-income homeowners a higher percentage tax break, critics said that wealthier communities will still the largest benefit because they pay among the highest taxes in the nation.
"STAR benefits are adjusted upward in counties with high home values, so the program disproportionately benefits wealthier households," the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed group, said in a June 2015 analysis.
The group estimated in 2019, a homeowner in Babylon on Long Island with income of $100,000 would get a $815 rebate, while a homeowner with a similar income in Tonawanda, Erie County, would get $331.
Cuomo in 2015 initially proposed a tax-relief plan that was similar to a so-called "circuit breaker," which tied property taxes more directly to household income.
But in a flurry before the end of the legislative session in 2015, Cuomo's plan was altered to be more of direct property-tax relief through a rebate check, critics said.
"What they actually need to do is develop a program that ties your property-tax burden to your income level in a realistic way -- so you never pay more than a certain percentage of your income in property taxes," Deutsch said.
The rebate checks aren't the only ones going out to homeowners.
New Yorkers who recently bought their homes should have already received STAR rebate checks.
This year, the Legislature and Cuomo changed the law so the STAR rebate is provided in a check for new homeowners rather than an upfront savings on their school-tax bills.
The checks were supposed to go out by Sept. 1 for people who registered by July 1 and bought their homes after Aug. 1, 2015.
The state admitted to having problems with about 1,500 of 45,400 checks that were sent out last month.
The problem was the checks were for a lesser amount than what eligible homeowners qualified for under Enhanced STAR, which is for seniors.
New homeowners can still apply for the program and get the checks, but most school taxes were due Sept. 1.
For existing homeowners, their STAR rebates aren't changing.
To find more details about property-tax "freeze" checks, visit: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/property_tax_freeze.htm
For more on property-tax relief checks, visit: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/property-tax-relief.htm
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.