The Change In Canadian Spending

DAYTONA NILES/NNY BUSINESS
Melissa and Mathew Hardy stand in front of their cafe Bella’s located in Clayton.

[Read more…]

Tax Breaks You Can Only Claim as a Homeowner

Lance Evans

There are many benefits associated with homeownership. The American Dream offers financial gain, stability, and many social benefits.   One of the biggest benefits associated with homeownership can be found when filing your taxes and, depending on your situation, there may be thousands of dollars coming back your way.

    “Homeownership is an investment in your future,” said Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie. “It is where we make memories and feel comfortable and secure, it strengthens communities, and it offers homeowners financial security. Tax breaks are just one of many benefits of being a homeowner, and even those who have owned a home for years may be unaware of all of the opportunities for savings.”

    As the deadline to file taxes approaches, the Jefferson-Lewis and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors want to remind homeowners of the many tax benefits, savings and deductions they can take advantage of simply by owning a home.

The mortgage interest deduction (MID)

    This may be the most notable and advantageous tax benefit that homeowners enjoy. The MID allows homeowners to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage debt of up to $1 million on a primary residence and one additional residence. It is especially helpful in the early years of a mortgage when the monthly payment goes largely toward interest.

Property taxes

    It is widely known that being a homeowner means paying taxes on your property to local government, whether it is the city, county or state. What you might not know is that these taxes are entirely deductible from your federal income tax, which is more great tax news for homeowners.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction

    Homeowners with incomes of no more than $100,000 can deduct their mortgage insurance premiums if they were required to obtain insurance as a condition of receiving financing for the home. With the current obstacles that prospective homebuyers face, such as student loan debt, the deduction is a benefit that can save homeowners a great deal of money.

    “If you are on the fence about buying a home, taking advantage of these tax benefits can help put your dream home within reach,” said Debbie Gilson, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. “By working with a Realtor, a member of the National Association of Realtors, you can better understand the home-buying process and the many benefits that come with owning a home.”

    Congress is considering eliminating or curtailing some or all of these tax benefits.  Members of Congress from both Houses and both parties have expressed a high level of interest in reforming the tax system. Many Washington observers point to Republican-control of the House, Senate, and White House as the primary reason a version of tax reform may finally be enacted. Much work remains before any tax reform plan comes up for any votes. This ongoing debate places a variety of tax laws, including those affecting commercial and residential real estate, under increased scrutiny.

    Realtors are working to preserve these benefits.  American homeowners already pay between 80 and 90 percent of all federal income taxes. Without the MID, for instance, that figure could rise to 95 percent. It’s particularly troubling considering the fact that more than half of families who claim the MID earn less than $100,000 per year.

    The state and local property tax deduction is essential to homeowners as well. While paying property taxes is a part of owning a home, knowing that those payments to state and local governments can be deducted from their federal income tax brings some peace of mind.  Without that deduction, homeowners would get taxed on the income used to pay their property taxes. This is a form of “double taxation” that hits home for lower- and middle-income households.

    The value of these tax incentives is already figured into home prices, meaning there’s a very real likelihood that eliminating those benefits could cause home values to plummet.  Please contact Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and let them know that these deductions are important and need to be preserved.

Hiring outside firm to balance St. Lawrence County’s bank accounts expected to cost up to $30,000

By SUSAN MENDE
SMENDE@OGD.COM

A private accounting firm has been hired by St. Lawrence County to reconcile dozens of county bank accounts, some that have not been balanced since the end of 2012.

The firm Hoffman Eells & Gray CPAS, P.C., Canton, is being paid $65 an hour to reconcile the county’s checking accounts in several different county departments.

The contract started Oct. 3 and is expected to cost the county between $20,000 and $30,000, according to Deputy County Treasurer Renee M. Cole.

Legislator Donald J. Hooper, R-Ogdensburg, said he was ”distressed” to learn at the Oct. 3 full board meeting that more than 70 bank accounts in several different county departments have not been balanced for an extended period.

“I was shocked. This is Accounting 101. It kind of blew me away,” Mr. Hooper said.

Mr. Hooper is a semi-retired certified public accountant with the Pinto, Mucenski, Hooper & VanHouse law firm, Ogdensburg.

He said not having accurate bank balances forces legislators to make financial decisions based on faulty data, such as whether or not to borrow money to cover projected cash flow shortages. County legislators agreed in September to borrow $9.5 million.

“You can’t make a decision on bad information is what it really amounts to,” he said.

Mrs. Cole said the problem of unbalanced bank accounts predated her being appointed a deputy county treasurer in May 2015. Former county treasurer Kevin M. Felt was running the office until he resigned in January. Mrs. Cole has been in charge of the office for the past nine months.

“This is an issue I inherited,” Mrs. Cole said Tuesday. “I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I’m just here to address a problem.”

The transition in February 2013 to a new financial software system is partly to blame for bank accounts getting backlogged, she told lawmakers.

“By the time we clearly identified it, it was beyond our ability to handle with the staff we had in-house,” Mrs. Cole said.

Also, she said the arrival of the new software coincided with the departure of a senior account clerk in the treasurer’s office served as the bank reconciliation clerk. The position was filled by someone from another department who needed extensive, time-consuming training.

The county switched to a new external auditing firm this year, Drescher & Mulecki, Cheektowaga. Mrs. Cole said she and her staff had to spent a great deal of time bringing that firm up to speed on county policies and providing other financial information.

“The issue of no reconciliation was cited in the 2013 audit. It probably should have been cited in the 2014 audit as well and I can’t speak to why it wasn’t,” Mrs. Cole said. “I think a serious attempt was made to try to reconcile these in 2014, but some reconciliations were dropped and it was never really wrapped up or finalized.”

Derek R. VanHouse, the Republican candidate for the county treasurer’s job, said he felt that county legislators should have been made aware sooner that multiple bank accounts needed to be reconciled.

“It was a surprise to the legislators.” Mr. VanHouse said. “When you’re talking about cash flow and borrowing money you want to make sure the information is up-to-date and as accurate as possible.”

He is vying for the seat against Mrs. Cole, running on the Democrat and Women’s Equality lines and Robert T. Santamoor running on the Independence line.

Mr. Santamoor, a former deputy county treasurer, said he agreed that new software and staff turnover are to blame for the delay in balancing county bank accounts.

“Renee’s characterization is accurate,” he said.

Mr. Santamoor said he disagreed with Mr. Felt’s decision to let the staff member handling those duties to transfer to another county department.

Mrs. Cole said county officials were not aware until September that the bank reconciliation backlog problem could not be resolved by the external auditor. Auditors said the accounts need to be balanced so they can complete their 2015 audit.

Mr. Hooper said he was “disappointed” that the county’s 2015 audit may not be finished until sometime in 2017.

She noted that the county treasurer’s position has been unfilled since January and she’s essentially been juggling two positions.

“I feel I’ve done the best job I could. I don’t know how this could have been brought forward any sooner,” Mrs. Cole said.

Although the county has more than 70 bank accounts, including checking, savings and trust accounts, Mrs. Cole said a large portion have minimal activity.

She said many are required by the state, such as separate bank accounts for some social services programs.

“We’re required to have different bank accounts for different reasons, but we are looking to identify and close some as part of this reconciliation,” she said.