CAPE VINCENT — Seasonal residents who switch their voter registrations — as is being urged by anti-wind turbine forces here — may be at risk of losing School Tax Relief program exemptions on their “primary residences.”
Joseph Hesch, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said although switching one’s voter registration alone will not designate Cape Vincent as a person’s primary residence, seasonal residents who do not wish to lose their property tax exemptions — such as STAR and Florida’s homestead exemptions — on their other residences should contact their local assessor before signing up to vote in another county or state.
“It’s up to the individual municipal assessor to decide whether a house is someone’s primary residence. Changing your voting registration is a way of saying, ‘this is my primary residence,’” Mr. Hesch said. “But there are other factors that weigh into an assessor’s decision. The STAR exemption form even says there’s no single factor that determines whether a property is your primary residence.”
Besides voter registrations, factors such as “vehicle registrations and length of time spent each year on the property may be relevant,” he said.
Well over 200 seasonal residents have signed up to vote in Cape Vincent since the launch of a voter registration drive in May, with a majority of these new voters registering as Republicans to vote for past and present Wind Power Ethics Group members at the Sept. 13 Republican primary.
In the primary, wind power advocate Harvey J. White will face off against town Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey, a past member of WPEG. Also in the race for Town Council are two WPEG members – John L. Byrne and Clifford J. Schneider, who also is a member of the Jefferson County Planning Board — and incumbent Marty T. Mason, who hope to secure Republican Party ballot lines for the two council seats up for election.
Mr. Byrne, who is part of the group of 15 to 20 volunteers that has been asking people to vote in Cape Vincent, said he has been giving people the same advice as Mr. Hesch — to check with local assessors before switching their voter registrations — to make sure seasonal residents are not penalized for trying to make a difference.
The group’s primary goal is to defeat financially conflicted candidates in the September primary, namely Mr. White and Councilman Mason, who have leases and power line easements with wind developers.
But some longtime residents of Cape Vincent are not so happy with the influx of “seasonal voters” fueled by the ongoing debate over wind development in the town.
Harold L. Wiley, a lifelong resident of Cape Vincent and chairman of the local Democratic Party, said he was one of many who are upset that seasonal residents are trying to take control over the Town Council just to push their anti-wind farm agenda.
“These people never voted here before. They only come here to enjoy the quiet countryside, the river and the lake for a few months. I don’t think they should vote our guys out who worked so hard to create water districts and keep the tax rate steady,” Mr. Wiley said. “What they’re doing is not illegal, but it’s unethical and immoral.”