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OpinionEditorial

Suffolk County tax question gets needlessly political

Confusion over septic-system grants could hint at a nasty race for Suffolk County executive

John Kennedy at the Republican convention held on

John Kennedy at the Republican convention held on Feb. 25, 2019. Photo Credit: John Roca

It’s bad whenever politics trumps policy. But the ongoing debacle over tax bills related to Suffolk County’s program to help homeowners install nitrogen-reducing septic systems is particularly ugly.

This one is on Republican County Comptroller John Kennedy, who rarely misses an opportunity to politicize an issue involving Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone. It’s no coincidence that Kennedy is challenging Bellone in November’s election. If this spat is an indication of where the campaign is headed, it will be brutal.

Kennedy mailed IRS 1099 forms to homeowners who upgraded their septic systems to indicate the county grants that made the pricey upgrades possible are considered income, raising homeowners’ taxes and pushing some into higher tax brackets. But the grants were given directly to contractors who installed the systems, and they are paying taxes on the grants. Suffolk officials told homeowners they would face no tax consequences, but Kennedy told Newsday that their position is “flawed.”

We’ve chided Bellone’s administration at times for failing to respect process, but this does not seem to be such an occasion. A legal opinion from the county’s tax firm cited two prior IRS cases, and officials also contacted other municipalities with similar programs, like the state of Maryland, none of which send 1099s to homeowners. Some homeowners who researched the topic on their own came to the same conclusion. East End homeowners who took advantage of rebate programs offered by East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southampton towns legitimately received 1099 forms because the rebate checks went to them.

Kennedy says he plans to seek an opinion from the IRS on who should receive the tax forms. He should have done that before sending them out, not after. Instead of acting as a concerned public official, Kennedy functioned as a political opportunist seeking to score points at the expense of the very people he is supposed to serve. That’s disappointing but, alas, not surprising. — The editorial board

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