Town supervisors request state extend date residents can pay property taxes without penalty

Suffolk County’s town supervisors are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend the date by which people can pay their property taxes without incurring a penalty from the current May 31 to Aug. 1.

The supervisors also are seeking extensions for grievance day from the third Tuesday in May to the third Tuesday in August, and an extension on the deadline for town assessment rolls to be approved from May 1 to Aug. 1.

The Suffolk County Supervisors Association is asking the governor to approve an executive order “to assist those people who pay their property taxes directly and not through any authorized escrow account held by a mortgage company, lender, bank or mortgage servicing company,” the letter sent to the governor read.

The requests follow recent layoffs and loss of wages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently in Suffolk County, the second half of the property tax — which includes town, school district, county, fire district, and other property taxes — is due by May 31.

The supervisors are not asking to extend that deadline, but rather, to allow someone to pay their property taxes up until Aug. 1 without facing a penalty or interest, according to Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer, who is chairman of the Suffolk County Supervisors Association. 

State law allows the governor to extend the deadline for paying property taxes by up to 21 days, but Mr. Schaffer said that’s not enough.

“People are struggling who have lost their jobs or are being furloughed or not paid, and we think this is a good way to help those people deal with the situation,” Mr. Schaffer said. “It also keeps the government moving and providing emergency response services.” 

“I had originally proposed that the deadline be extended for no less than 45 days after the current deadline of May 31,” he said.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said he originally proposed extending the deadline by no less than 45 days from May 31, but that there was hesitation to support it.

“Ultimately, we decided that the deadline would remain the same, but there should be a waiver of penalties or interest. It is essential for the state to support this. We are prohibiting public access to the buildings and we are trying to operate with a trimmed down staff in every department.

“While people can pay by mail or online, most prefer to pay at the window. We don’t know where we will be or how long the epidemic will threaten residents, so we need to move things out beyond statutory deadlines. We are living in a crisis and the normal course of doing business needs to be set to the side.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has concerns about the proposal.

“Here’s the issue for me,” he said by phone. “In some towns, most of the tax money comes in through the mortgage lenders.”

He said the banks that are holding the money pay the taxes.

But in Southampton Town, he said, most of the taxes are coming in without mortgages and about 65% fall to this category, while in places like Southampton Village, it could be 80 or 90%.

“Yes, it’s true that a lot of them are senior citizens who have paid off their mortgages and they could probably use some relief. But a lot of it is also second homeowners who don’t necessarily need a relief. The problem with giving relief to the ultra rich is that we need that tax revenue to make payroll.”

Mr. Schneiderman said the biggest portion of the property tax bill is school taxes, and school districts have expressed concerns about the proposal.

Mr. Schneiderman said he would support the proposal by changing it so that it only applied to homeowners with STAR exemptions, and who are full-time, year-round residents and not second homeowners.

“I assume the wealthy people who have summer homes without mortgages can probably afford to pay their taxes on time,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguilar also supports the proposal .

“Absolutely,” she said.  

Mr. Schaffer said the governor has yet to respond.

A email sent by a Times-Review reporter to the governor’s office seeing comment did not immediately get a respond.

Both the Long Island Builders Association and the Association for a Better Long Island, two large business organizations, also support an extension of the deadline on property tax deadlines.

“We are in a state of emergency, where numerous businesses are required to close, and companies are required to reduce their office workforce by 100%,” they said in a joint release. “Therefore, residents and businesses will face difficulty paying real property taxes by the May dates. Time is always the most valuable commodity in business, every added day could mean the difference of survival or failure for countless businesses.”