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Tax error leads to Fire Island residents being overbilled

About 450 Fire Island homeowners have been overbilled for the fire district portion of their 2010 property tax bill because of a clerical error, fire district and Islip Town officials said Tuesday.

Islip officials are considering how to revise the tax bills and reimburse residents who already have made the payment, town comptroller Joseph Ludwig said.

The Fair Harbor fire district levied $140,071 more than necessary, resulting in an 88 percent jump in district taxes from last year, records show.

The district's taxes should have risen just 21 percent, an increase needed to pay debt service on a bond for a firehouse renovation approved last year, district commissioner Heather McDonald said.

Records show that the Fair Harbor district, which provides firefighting services for two neighboring fire districts, submitted an incorrect tax levy figure to the town.

The figure included what the neighboring districts needed, but those two - Lonelyville and Dunewood - had submitted their totals independently.

Last year, records show, the Fair Harbor district provided a breakdown of the budgets for the three districts, and in separate documents correctly listed its own tax levy, excluding the funds for the other two.

The town comptroller's office is responsible for using the figures provided by all taxing districts in the town to calculate tax bills, Ludwig said.

McDonald, who Monday sent an e-mail to Fair Harbor residents blaming the town for the error, said in an interview Tuesday: "I don't really know how it happened. As I understand it, everything was submitted the same way it was submitted every year. It's not something we take lightly. What we have to do right now is get it fixed."

Fair Harbor District chairman Brett Roberts called the tax billing "a clerical error" and declined to comment further.

Gena Goldstein, a seasonal Fair Harbor resident who lives in Manhattan, said she already had paid the taxes in full.

"I did think it was kind of exorbitant, but I paid it because if you don't pay on time, there's a penalty," said Goldstein, one of 447 homeowners affected. " . . . The bottom line is, they've got money that doesn't belong to them."

Islip officials are expected to meet Wednesday to discuss a potential remedy. Property taxes can be paid in two installments and are due on Jan. 10 and May 10.

The town will submit an amended tax roll to Suffolk County at the county legislature's first meeting in January, Ludwig said. It is unclear whether revised bills can be sent out before the first property tax payments, he said.

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