Plan to push back property tax deadline hitting snag

A proposal to push back the due date for property taxes in Suffolk County appears to have run into some opposition at the county level.

The Suffolk County Supervisor’s Association in late March sent a letter requesting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue an executive order shifting the deadline by which property taxes can be paid without penalty from the current May 31 to Aug. 1. 

The purpose of the move was “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 which are due by May 31, 2020, by allowing for a waiver of penalties and interest for payments made by August 1, 2020,” according to that letter. 

“We also would like to request that the assessment roll final date of May 1 be moved to Aug. 1 and Grievance Day be moved from the third Tuesday in May to the third Tuesday in August,” the letter stated. 

The requests came in response to the flood of layoffs and wage losses caused by COVID-19 and the slew of businesses that have been forced to close to comply with state edicts aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said in an interview Monday that the proposal seems to be losing support in Albany. 

“It’s something that seemed like a no-brainer at the beginning, but now — between school budgets and other municipal budgets that really rely on that revenue — I think the governor is showing some reluctance to do that.”

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer, who heads the supervisors’ association, supported the proposal in March.

“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 at the time. “It also keeps the government moving and providing emergency response services.”

But Mr. Schaffer said Monday that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the leaders of other municipalities that would be impacted have to weigh in on the proposal before it can be sent to the governor.

“We haven’t gotten an answer yet” from the county, Mr. Schaffer said. “The county’s concern was that they have revenue bonds tied to the property tax payment in July.”

Jason Elan, a spokesperson for Mr. Bellone, issued the following statement: “We are supportive of providing relief, but need to make sure that any proposal protects County taxpayers and does not jeopardize our bond obligations.”

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Bellone in 2018, was more direct. 

“I am obligated to repay a total of $410 million in short-term borrowing that we did last December in anticipation of receipt of property taxes,” he said in an interview Monday. 

“Is this something that might give a measure of accommodation to our taxpayers? Absolutely. I’m not going to disagree with that.

“However, I have no choice other than to oppose any effort to move that May 31 date, because in July, we’ve got to pay back about $329 million and in August, another $74 million or so,” Mr. Kennedy said.

He said the county also is the guarantor for all 10 Suffolk towns if any of them are short on their tax revenue. 

“I don’t want to demean our town supervisors, but if we move that date, then for all intents and purposes, the county becomes insolvent and the whole house of cards come falling down,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Riverhead Tax Receiver Laurie Zaneski said residents have been calling and emailing her office in droves — and they want the extension. 

But, she added, “we haven’t heard anything yet” about whether it will be approved. 

“The residents really, really want the extension,” she said. “One lady was in tears, saying ‘You’re taking food from my family.’ ”

Normally, Ms. Zaneski said, her office would already have sent a notice to residents saying that the second half of their property taxes is due by May 31. 

But, she said, “I’m so afraid to send then out because I don’t want to get residents so angry and then if they change it, I have to do another mailing and it’s going to cost the town money.”

Ms. Zaneski said officials from the Riverhead Central School District have reached out and said the extension would be a disaster for school districts. 

“So the [county] government and the schools don’t want it to happen and the residents do,” she said. “I wish I just had an answer, either yes or no.”

Both the Long Island Builders Association and the Association for a Better Long Island, two large business organizations, also supported an extension of the deadline for property tax payments back in March. 

“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 statement.