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Jul 21, 2009 8:05 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Zwirn, Schneiderman in verbal tussle

Jul 21, 2009 8:05 PM

East Hampton Democratic Town Supervisor candidate Ben Zwirn and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman went head to head this week, after Mr. Zwirn told reporters that he had Mr. Scheiderman’s backing for county legislation that would refund property tax penalties to town taxpayers who did not receive reminder notices from the town.

Mr. Schneiderman, who had initially said that he would introduce the legislation, said this week that he had serious concerns about Mr. Zwirn’s conduct. He said that Mr. Zwirn held a press conference on July 10 outlining the bill that he expected Mr. Schneiderman to draft before even running the idea by him.

Mr. Schneiderman added that since he began receiving calls from the press about the legislation last week, attorneys for the County Legislature have told him that such a law would be illegal. Mr. Schneiderman also accused Mr. Zwirn of acting in bad faith, because, he said, Mr. Zwirn had received an opinion from the county treasurer’s office that such a measure would be illegal before he even held the press conference.

The county legislator also complained that the county’s ethics law prohibits county employees who are running for public office from promoting legislation that will help them win an election.

Mr. Zwirn is a deputy county executive under Democrat Steve Levy. Mr. Schneiderman is a member of the Independence Party, although he served as East Hampton Town supervisor as a Republican and was a member of the GOP as county legislator before switching party affiliation last summer. Mr. Schneiderman’s concerns about the proposed law Mr. Zwirn was seeking arose after a Press reporter last week gave East Hampton Town Board members a draft of a letter written by Mr. Zwirn that was purportedly from the Town Board to Mr. Schneiderman expressing support for the legislation. The letter was included with press materials for Mr. Zwirn’s July 10 press conference.

Members of the Town Board said that they had never seen the letter and did not support its contents. At the time, Mr. Zwirn’s spokeswoman Lona Rubenstein had said that the letter was actually a draft letter from Jay Schneiderman to the Town Board, despite the fact that the letter was signed “Town of East Hampton.”

Mr. Zwirn this week quickly decried the notion that he had “forged” a letter, stating that the document was clearly labeled “Draft” at the top.

“Politics has reared its ugly head. I’m moving forward for the taxpayers of East Hampton with or without Jay Schneiderman,” said Mr. Zwirn this week, after learning of Mr. Schneiderman’s complaints. Mr. Zwirn added that he believed Mr. Schneiderman had a history of backing legislation that was not enforceable, including a recent county effort to control helicopter noise.

Mr. Zwirn said that Mr. Schneiderman is offering residents “false hope” on the helicopter law.

“Shame on him for not trying on behalf of his constituents,” he said of Mr. Schneiderman’s position on the tax penalty refunds.

The tax penalty issue is a result of the Town Board’s decision to not send reminder notices for the second half of the year’s taxes, which were due on May 31. The board touted the decision as a cost-saving measure—town officials have estimated the cost of printing and mailing the reminders at $3,500 to $14,000—but this year, the town did not receive more than $2 million in tax payments by the deadline. The town tax receiver’s office estimates that about 3,200 taxpayers had not paid by the deadline.

After May 31, the town is required to turn over tax collection to Suffolk County, which provides the town with the missing tax revenue and collects fees and imposes liens on the properties of delinquent taxpayers. Mr. Zwirn’s plan would refund the tax penalties paid by East Hampton taxpayers who paid their bills late, even though there is no way of knowing if most people paid their bills late because they did not receive the reminder notice or because they were facing economic hardship.

“He was told in no uncertain terms before the press conference that this is not legal,” said Mr. Schneiderman of Mr. Zwirn. “I couldn’t believe this. I’m feeling embarrassed.”

Mr. Schneiderman said that he believes the New York State Assembly may be able to draft a one-time exemption for tax penalties and that he had asked State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to look into drafting a state law to fix the problem.

“Now Ben is saying that Schneiderman is not fighting for the taxpayer,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard to keep down taxes. Frankly, I don’t want to mislead people and make them think I can do anything. If you really believe so strongly in this issue, you have to work with the Assembly leaders for a special exemption.”

Deputy County Treasurer Doug Sutherland said this week that a special law forgiving taxpayers would be illegal. He cited a 1998 case in which former County Comptroller Joe Caputo sued the County Legislature in Suffolk County Supreme Court on behalf of the taxpayers stating that such a law was in violation of the Suffolk County Tax Act. Mr. Caputo won both the initial case and an appeal.

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If Zwirn thought this was such a no brainer and not illegal why didn't he just go to his boss County Executiove Steve Levy and ask him to work with the Democrat head of the County Legislature to introduce the bill to ask for the tax penalty waiver? Why not? Because he knew it was illegal and could not afford to get his boss Levy in trouble if word got out Zwirn knew ahead of time. Worst case scenario was if exposed Zwirn could react as he is doing now -- saying its not about politics, etc., stc., ...more
By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 22, 09 11:06 PM
I hope all the residents of Easthampton see this Re-Tread Lying Politician Zwirn for what he is. He's the guy who as a Town Supervisor in Nassau County, ran it into the ground and then was bounced out by the voters because of his idiotic agenda and fiscally unsound policies. He's now the guy, along with his pal Stevie Levy, who is running Suffolk County into the ground.

He is a smart man, but it's not his intelligence I dispute. Mr. Zwirn has a radical agenda that will deliver LESS ...more
By JackC574 (21), Southampton on Jul 23, 09 6:33 AM
Where was the press conference held?
By Richard (3), east hampton on Jul 26, 09 4:47 PM