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Expert hired to assess farm's tax bill

With a $1 million tax bill hanging in the balance, Huntington Town officials have agreed to hire an agricultural tax-exemption expert to help them determine the taxes for Asharoken's Sandpiper Farm, which recently was included in one of the county's agricultural districts.

The board voted unanimously to hire Mark Twentyman, of upstate Kinderhook, who directed the state's agricultural assessment program for more than 30 years before retiring. He'll be paid up to $8,000.

Twentyman will advise the town about the landowner's request that the town assess Sandpiper at the lower agriculture rates, not residentially, and about a lawsuit filed against the town by the owner, Eatons Neck Llc.

Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to include the 440 acres, spread across two parcels, in one of the county's agricultural districts, bolstering the landowner's request to be assessed agriculturally. The farm there trains about 15 horses used in foxhunting.

The legislature's vote was controversial, with supporters saying it protects open space and deters development, while critics argued it could cost the village, town and schools hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

It also could force the village of Asharoken to revamp some of its codes and laws since it currently outlaws both commercial operations and agricultural activities.

Syosset attorney Jon Santemma, who is representing Eatons Neck Llc, said the suit asks the town to re-evaluate and lower the properties' assessments for two previous years.

In fiscal year 2011, the owners did not apply for an agricultural assessment, but did file for a reassessment. The following year, they did apply for an agricultural assessment. Neither request was granted.

Santemma said he is waiting to hear from the town assessor's office and then the owners and he will decide whether the response is appropriate. The next court date in the case is in October.

Santemma said that to be eligible for an agricultural assessment, a property has to be at least seven acres and earn an average $10,000 annually from an agricultural operation for two years before the application.

The assessments for both years were illegal, excessive and misclassified, Santemma said in court documents. He said the owners have also applied for agricultural assessments for this year and next year.

The town declined to comment on the suit.

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