Babylon Village Public Works Superintendent Charles “Skip” Gardner, the village’s highest-paid employee, owes more than $31,000 in delinquent property taxes, records show.
Those debts consist of four years of outstanding town, county and school taxes, plus interest and penalties, dating back to 2014, tax records show.
Until May, Gardner also owed $3,400 in property tax liens issued by Babylon Village from as early as 2012, according to tax records.
Village Treasurer Valerie Fronzo said Gardner paid those liens on May 9, four days after Newsday filed a Freedom of Information Law request for details on them and other property tax delinquencies.
Gardner said he had not been aware of Newsday’s request when he paid off the village liens, and did not do so in response to it. Rather, he said, a neighbor had seen the most recent lien listed in a public notice and encouraged him to pay.
Gardner, 64, rose to the rank of superintendent after decades of work for the village. He now oversees about six departments and nearly all maintenance and improvements of village parks, roads and other infrastructure. Payroll records show he was paid $179,000 last year for his Civil Service position.
In the years he failed to pay village taxes, his taxpayer-funded compensation increased by about $42,000, due in part to a $19,000 increase in overtime pay. He was the highest-paid village public works superintendent in Suffolk County in 2015, according to Newsday’s most recent payroll database.
Gardner said his tax delinquencies were an oversight.
“I work long hours all day, and I thought my wife was taking care of the bills,” he said. “It’s a big mistake on my part to not be more aware of this.”
Gardner said he planned to take out a loan to begin paying off his outstanding tax debt.
“It took time to get this bad, and it’s going to take a couple months to fix it,” he said.
Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino declined to comment on Gardner’s tax delinquencies or say whether he was previously aware of them.
“I really can’t talk about personnel,” Scordino said, adding that Gardner did not receive special treatment because of his job.
Babylon sold Gardner’s four years of village liens to private parties about nine months after they were due, in keeping with procedures, tax records show. Babylon sells liens to get the debts off its ledger, Fronzo said.
The village does not require employees to file annual financial statements disclosing debts such as tax liens, Village Clerk Patricia Carley said.
Scordino described Gardner as a prized public servant.
“He’s invaluable,” Scordino said. “He’s the primary reason why this village looks the way it does.”
Gardner, who has worked for the village since 1968, also stressed his devotion to Babylon.
“I think it shows in this community how much I care about it,” he said. “You go on every street in this village, I made it better than I found it.”
Public policy experts and village residents said Gardner’s tax delinquency marred his record of service.
“It doesn’t set a very good example,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank based in Albany. Not paying taxes is “inappropriate conduct for anybody, especially a public official,” he said.
Tom Sweeney, a Babylon resident who served on a budget oversight committee and has been critical of the village’s financial management, said he was “extremely dismayed” by Gardner’s tax delinquencies.
“It’s upsetting that the man can’t pay his taxes and is making that amount of coin,” Sweeney said.
Gardner’s history of unpaid taxes goes back several years, records show.
Suffolk County foreclosed on his Babylon Village home on Cockenoe Avenue in 2009 because of unpaid property taxes, county tax records show. Gardner regained title to the property in 2010. He was also delinquent on paying taxes on a second home he owns on Captree Island several times between 2010 and 2012 — compiling debts of up to $38,000, town tax records show.
And he accumulated roughly $117,000 in income tax liens and warrants between 2002 and 2010, according to federal and state tax records.
Tax liens and warrants are claims the government makes on someone’s property after taxes become delinquent. All of those back taxes have since been paid, records show.
Gardner said he had paid his income tax in those years in the form of payroll taxes but forgot to file returns. However, the New York State warrants described those debts as “tax, interest and penalties” that were at the time “wholly unpaid,” while the federal liens called each a “liability” that had been “unpaid.”
“It’s my fault,” Gardner said of his tax delinquency. “I should keep a better eye on these things.”