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East End officials to rally against new septic installation tax

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Town Engineer John Cronin

Just when there appeared to be a successful effort underway to replace aged cesspools and septic systems with nitrogen-reducing systems, a major glitch has angered property owners and officials.

The idea behind grants from the county, state and towns was to make the improved septic systems affordable. Now Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy wants both those installing the systems and property owners to be taxed.

It appears to stem from a political battle between Mr. Kennedy, a Republican, and his rival for the county executive’s seat, Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone, who opposes the idea of taxing grants made to property owners.

Shelter Island Town Engineer John Cronin called Mr. Kennedy’s action “yet another example of typical Suffolk County politics getting in the way of the best interests of citizens. What else are politicians willing to politicize on the backs of their constituents?” he said. “If drinking water protection cannot be a top priority for elected officials, you can bet your bottom dollar they will cave on everything else.”

The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association is expected to meet in an emergency session to address the problem, Mr. Cronin said. He will attend the meeting with Supervisor Gary Gerth and Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams.

A March 14 letter from Deputy County Executive Peter Scully ordered Mr. Kennedy to rescind tax forms sent to homeowners. “Without prior discussion and without explanation, your office demanded that the Department of Health Services obtain a W-9 form from a homeowner who had participated in the program,” Mr. Scully wrote. “The reason why this double reporting occurred has not been explained.”

The county received an opinion from its tax counsel concluding no forms should go to property owners who had received grants.

With a looming April 15 deadline for filing taxes, Mr. Scully told Mr. Kennedy to “take immediate steps to rescind [the forms] issued to homeowners. Please advise that such action will be taken on a priority basis.”

Mr. Kennedy said he was seeking advice from the Internal Revenue Service before taking any such action.

In a note to Mr. Scully, Mr. Cronin told him his letter to Mr. Kennedy was an “outstanding response to a grave situation and a tacit attempt to undermine an important water quality initiative.”

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