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Hempstead seeks tax deadline extension because of storm

Town of Hempstead officials have asked Gov. David A. Paterson to postpone Wednesday's deadline to pay property taxes in light of the impending snowstorm.

In a letter Tuesday, town Supervisor Kate Murray and Tax Receiver Donald Clavin urged Paterson to declare a state of emergency and extend the due date by one week to give taxpayers the chance to pay without penalty after the weather clears.

"Extending the deadline until local roads are safe for travel will save residents from being unfairly penalized with late fees due to weather conditions beyond their control," Murray and Clavin wrote. "You may help save thousands of taxpayers from the risks of driving in hazardous road conditions and encourage people to stay off the roads so that snow clean up crews can quickly and effectively clear the roads."

State officials said Tuesday that they would assess weather conditions before making a decision.

"If she feels that's needed, we will try to give it to her," Paterson said.

State deputy secretary for public safety Denise O'Donnell said she had been in contact with Murray. "If the weather conditions do become that serious that we need to declare a state of emergency, we are prepared to do that. Otherwise, the tax rules remain in effect."

The first half of this year's general taxes is due Wednesday for some 240,000 residential parcels in the town, according to Clavin.

About half of those tax bills, or 120,000, are paid directly by the property owner, town officials said. The rest are paid by banks, mortgage companies or other entities.

Taxes on some 48,000 parcels are paid in person, town officials said.

As the deadline looms, the tax receiver's office has seen the usual surge of last-minute taxpayers.

Officials estimated that on Monday, more than 3,100 taxpayers had streamed through the office, located at 200 N. Franklin St. in Hempstead.

Murray said she was concerned that some residents - especially senior citizens, who make up the majority of those who pay in person - would risk driving in unsafe weather Wednesday to avoid penalties on late taxes. There is a 2 percent penalty for payments made up to a month after the due date, Clavin said.

"Thousands of taxpayers love to wait until the last moment to give up their money and I understand that," Clavin said Tuesday at a news conference. "The bottom line is they're going to have to be driving through slippery surfaces."

Murray said Gov. George Pataki granted a 90-day extension on the town's tax deadline after the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks. "Another seven days isn't really going to hurt the government, and it's going to help the people," she said.

Outside the tax receiver's office Tuesday afternoon, a line of more than a dozen vehicles snaked across the parking lot.

Solveig Eibert, 60, of East Rockaway, who had been waiting for about 15 minutes, said the wait time was longer than in recent years. "I would ascribe it to the storm, definitely. If you didn't make plans today, tomorrow it's out of the question," Eibert said. "It's only fair to give people the opportunity to reset their plans."

"Paying taxes, it's not so pleasant as it is," Clavin said Tuesday at a news conference. "Obviously, we don't want to make it dangerous."

With James T. Madore

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