Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a news conference in March....

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a news conference in March.   Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Daily Point

Bellone gets behind property tax payment extension

All 10 Suffolk County town supervisors have written to County Executive Steve Bellone asking him to extend the property tax payment deadline to Aug. 1 for those impacted by the coronavirus. Second-half tax payments are due June 1. Nassau County’s property tax payment system works differently, and is on an earlier calendar. School districts taxes, which are collected by Nassau, were delayed until June 1. 

Initially, Bellone resisted the move, arguing that the strapped county couldn’t afford delays in revenue because it must make a $440 million payment to its bondholders on July 1. But the unified request by the supervisors, organized by Bellone’s archenemy, Rich Schaffer, the Babylon town supervisor, has made Bellone change his mind.

“We are hopeful our County Executive will be able to provide our struggling residents with some relief on their property tax payments at this point. All ten town Supervisors were happy to help him lobby for the amendment to the Municipality Liquidity Facility (MLF) through the federal CARES Act, which he said would provide that much needed relief for taxpayers,” wrote Schaffer on his town’s website. “We’re about three weeks out from the deadline and still haven’t heard anything. We took him at his word that the MLF amendment would provide that relief. I hope he understands that we are under a moral obligation to help those who have been negatively impacted by this terrible pandemic.”

Other supervisors are telling homeowners who want to know whether there will be a delay similar to Nassau’s to call Suffolk’s 311 line, or visit the county website to find out what is going on. Huntington’s Chad Lupinacci recently delivered just such a message in a robocall to constituents.

Bellone is in agreement to extend the payment deadline but there is another curve ball from one of his sparring partners. County Comptroller John Kennedy has stepped in, sending a letter to the Treasury Department asking for a clarification that the federal program can be used this way. 

In any event, a good chunk of the $551 million due in property taxes to the county school districts, towns and villages will come in by the June 1 deadline since 50 percent of these payments are made by banks holding the money in escrow. Others who can afford to make the payment will likely do so because a failure to pay on time carries a penalty calculated on the full year’s payment, not just the second-half taxes due.

At this late date, supervisors fear it’s going to take a lot of effort to communicate with homeowners about the extension. Suffolk still has to finalize what proof would be required for property owners to show their finances were impacted. One supervisor told The Point that some proof that the inability to pay is tied to the coronavirus pandemic could include losing a job and producing paperwork of an unemployment claim, or a hospitalization with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

—Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

Talking Point

The old guard still has AOC in their sights

Firebrand freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was embarrassingly booted from the Working Families Party ballot this week because she didn’t have enough valid signatures. 

It may not do much harm for her reelection to Congress on the Democratic line given her international following and $8 million-plus in campaign receipts this cycle, but more interesting may have been the lawyer working on the booting: Martin Connor, the longtime former Brooklyn state senator and Democratic minority leader. Connor, an election law expert, lost a 2008 primary to then-newcomer Democrat Dan Squadron. Since then, he’s been making a career in the arcane law and brutal politics that govern election issues in New York. He supported a bid to get Zephyr Teachout off the Democratic line in her 2014 contest against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. More recently he had signed on with Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president who won a tight fight against outsider Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA. 

Now he’s with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, the former CNBC reporter who is the author of a 2010 book “You Know I'm Right: More Prosperity, Less Government,” in which she describes herself as a “fiscal conservative and a social liberal” and fan of Ronald Reagan. 

Now the well-heeled Caruso-Cabrera is running against Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary, trying to get her opponent to debate her just as AOC did in her congressional bid. But unlike AOC back then, Caruso-Cabrera has a bold-faced team that includes Connor and Hank Sheinkopf, the veteran and oft-quoted New York Democratic political consultant. 

Caruso-Cabrera’s campaign donors include movers and shakers like the Langone family, who often donate to Republicans and helped found Home Depot; Alan Mnuchin, brother of President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary; Jonathan Kraft of the Patriots dynasty, whose father is a Trump associate; and other high-powered lawyers and business people, many of them from outside New York. Altogether, Caruso-Cabrera’s April quarterly filing showed receipts of more than $1 million. 

Two years ago, Ocasio-Cortez famously beat Joe Crowley, a member of the House Democratic leadership team. Caruso-Cabrera’s high-powered team and support from left and right demonstrate the residual vitriol toward the lefty phenom from some quarters — and perhaps the lure of money.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Don't fall for it

Christopher Weyant

Christopher Weyant

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Final Point

New help in reducing nitrogen flow in Suffolk

There is little debate about the need to reduce nitrogen flowing from Suffolk’s 360,000 residential septic systems. The county has embarked on a program to offer grants to homeowners to replace failing or inefficient systems with high-tech installations that dramatically reduce the nitrogen that is harming our groundwater.

But how can homeowners be sure the system is working as advertised?

Enter Qingzhi Zhu, a scientist at Stony Brook University and the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology, who recently won the $50,000 first prize in a federal Environmental Protection Agency international competition to design a low-cost sensor to measure nitrogen discharged by advanced home systems.

“For coastal areas, the nitrogen pollution from our conventional cesspools is a big problem,” said Zhu, whose device has passed one-week and one-month verification tests, and now faces a final six-month test to begin in the fall. Zhu told The Point he is working on some hardware and software updates in preparation for the last challenge.

“I’m pretty confident, the components are working pretty well,” Zhu said. “Our goal is to make it ready for commercialization next year.”

Zhu said the sensor will cost less than $1,500, to be added to the average system cost of $20,000. Just more than 1,000 systems have been installed under Suffolk’s program, with 972 more in the permitting process.

Deputy county executive Peter Scully, who is heading up the effort, said Zhu’s device meets Suffolk’s goal “to develop an inexpensive technology that can be installed on both new and existing systems.”

Zhu, an associate professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences who earned a doctorate in chemistry from Xiamen University in China in 1997, has a track record of developing environmental sensors. His nitrogen sensor has potential widespread application.

“This is for any state, not only for Suffolk County,” Zhu said.

Nitrogen pollution, like some other current problems, knows no borders.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie