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Carpenter offers explanation for Suffolk tax gap

Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter (March 30, 2011)

Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter (March 30, 2011) (Credit: Handout)

Suffolk Treasurer Angie Carpenter said the county’s above average collection of property taxes in 2011 may have contributed to a larger than expected budget hole last year.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone aides last week said the most surprising part of the $155 million deficit for 2012 was a $15 million expansion of the property tax gap. Jon Schneider, deputy county executive for finance, noted that Suffolk, which has a $49 million general fund property tax levy, had estimated $38 million in property tax collections. However, only $23 million came in.

“It was absolutely startling,” said Schneider.

Officials say the property tax shortfall does not indicate that county tax collections have fallen below 50 percent. Suffolk County must front unpaid taxes to schools, towns and other special districts, which means the general fund ends up with a temporary shortfall.

In 2011, Carpenter said collection of the countywide $5 billion tax levy was unusually high — 98.53 percent, compared to 98.32 percent in 2012. Carpenter said last year’s collections were closer to the norm, noting that in 2009 property tax collections were 98.32 percent and 98.37 percent in 2010. Bellone aides could not say what numbers they used to project the tax collections.

Carpenter said the problem is exacerbated because the county general fund tax levy has remained unchanged, while the overall levy for local property taxes has continued to rise. That means that even a same percentage of nonpayments can cause a bigger shortfall in county general fund revenues.

The treasurer said the shortfalls are temporary because most delinquent taxpayers eventually pay and generate extra revenues because of interest and penalties. If non-payers persist, the county can seize properties — after one year for a commercial property and three years for residential tracts — and resell the land at auction.

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