The great sewer tax snafu of 2020

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 3/4/20

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — “My brain hurts. My voicemail is full of nasty messages. And I don’t know how I’m going to fix all these problems,” said tax collector Eileen …

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The great sewer tax snafu of 2020

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LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — “My brain hurts. My voicemail is full of nasty messages. And I don’t know how I’m going to fix all these problems,” said tax collector Eileen Hennessy at the February 12 Cochecton Town Board meeting. Hennessy is also a sales associate and columnist with The River Reporter.

She was referring to a county-level miscalculation of sewer tax rates that resulted in dramatic overcharges and undercharges for more than 150 property owners in the Lake Huntington sewer district. So far, Cochecton is the only town known to be affected by the county’s mistake.

“Don’t worry, Eileen. I’ll work with you on this, no matter how long it takes,” said supervisor Gary Maas. Then he turned to Sullivan County Legislature Chair Rob Doherty, in attendance at the meeting, and said, “Rob, the town is incurring significant additional expense for something it had nothing to do with. The cost of stationery, envelopes and postage—not to mention the extra hours Eileen and I are logging—is adding up. What can the county do to help us?”

“Keep a running tab of extra expenses; I’ll see what we can do,” said Doherty.

Hennessy described the complexity of the situation, particularly as it applies to sewer-district escrow accounts. “I don’t know where to begin with these accounts managed by mortgage companies, banks and other creditors,” said Hennessy.

Maas explained that homeowners should have noticed a dramatic change in their 2020 tax bill compared to their 2019 bill. In fact, it was a homeowner who originally alerted Maas to the calculation mistake. But bank and mortgage company staff would probably not be familiar with previous year sewer tax figures.

“This year, everybody paid up front,” said Hennessy, referencing full payment being made in January, as opposed to taxpayers taking advantage of the three-payment installment system that permits monthly payments through March. “If they’d waited until the last minute like they usually do, it would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”

The sewers themselves appear to be in much better condition than the sewer accounts. Wastewater manager Michael Walter said the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation inspector’s recent examination went well and that, pending receipt of her report, no major problems were detected.

Before the board moved onto other business, someone in the gallery pointed to highway superintendent Kevin Esselman and whispered, “He only comes to the meetings when he wants new equipment.” Esselman denied this. He was, however, asking for a new building, new laptop computer, printer and everything necessary for his department to provide more in-house equipment servicing.

Pointing to consistently high service charges for mechanical repair and routine servicing of heavy equipment, Esselman said, “We have the capacity to maintain and fix a lot of our own equipment, if we have the garage space and lift devices to do it. We can’t do everything, but we could do a lot more than we’re doing now.”

Esselman presented rough drawings of the building he envisions to the board, prompting Maas to ask, “Did you hire a draftsman to sketch this for you?”

“No,” said Esselman, laughing. “I did those myself,” adding that he learned drafting from Lionel Billard in high school technology class.
The board decided it would submit the drawings to the town’s engineer for feasibility review and a ballpark cost estimate.

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