NEWBURGH – Tenants at Candlestick Mobile Home Park are finally starting to see some of the New York School Tax Relief – known as STAR – refunds they've been owed for years.
Earlier this year, some Candlestick residents alleged Lakeshore, the mobile home park management company, had been illegally taking some or all of their STAR funds. The STAR program provides a partial exemption from school property taxes for homeowners.
An investigation by the New York Department of Homes and Community Renewal recently determined the incorrect STAR refunds were the result of a mistake at the municipal level, according to Karina Toro, a caseworker for the office of Sen. James Skoufis (D-Cornwall).
“The town of Newburgh assessor's office provided (Lakeshore) with the wrong information," she said. "So Lakeshore was actually using the right calculations, but it was just was a miscommunication error."
Since the error was uncovered, the funds have either been returned to residents or are in the process of being returned, Toro said.
Anthony Silverence is a Candlestick resident who has become a de facto tenant spokesperson. He and others are glad some of the STAR money is finally making its way into residents' hands, Silverence said. But he doesn't believe what he described as small additional refunds some residents received in recent weeks are equivalent to the total amount of money they've been shorted. They plan to keep up the watch over how park management handles their funds, Silverance said.
Candlestick residents have now formed a tenants association in collaboration with the nonprofit group Mobile Home Action, with Silverence as president. Among their goals: showing solidarity and helping residents effectively raise issues.
The association has already helped residents feel more confident voicing their concerns, Silverence said.
“Because we have a unified voice now, things are starting to happen,” he said. “But it's not happening at the speed we would like, and we're not asking for everything right away.”
The association also brought to light an issue with the park's septic system which posed environmental and health concerns. Karina Toro, of Sen. Skoufis' office, said Lakeshore never acquired the proper permits for its sewage and septic systems. Sewage was spilling into the Candlestick community, she said.
"It was literally pouring out on one of the lots and that created, obviously, a really bad smell," she said. Exposed sewage created numerous health risks for residents, she added.
Candlestick was cited last month by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Orange County Department of Health for environmental conservation and public health law violations.
Lakeshore — the management company which operates Candlestick — is working with the state to address the exposed sewage and acquire the proper permits, Toro said.
Erin Nolan is an investigative reporter for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org