Smaller government is usually a Republican battle cry, but this year Southold Democrats are trying to eliminate three elected offices within the town.
Democratic Tax Receiver Candidate Bill Edwards is running on the platform to abolish the position currently held by (if he is elected) and town Democrats chose not to run a candidate for assessor because, Democratic Chairman Art Tillman said, the party does not believe three elected assessors are necessary.
Tillman said if Edwards were to win next Tuesday, he would lobby the Town Board to eliminate the position. According to Tillman, other towns in New York are eliminating elected tax receivers.
According to published reports on Syracuse.com and the Utica Observer-Dispatch, several towns in upstate New York have already eliminated the position. Camillus Town voted to abolish the position in September and New Hartford will be voting to abolish the position next Tuesday.
Southold Town Clerk Elizabeth Neville said comparing Southold Town to upstate towns is not an accurate comparison of workload.
“Places upstate are different. Many are not in populated areas and some clerks actually operate from their homes,” Neville said.
Neville said that no one has asked for her opinion or for information on how such a transition might work.
“Quite frankly, it would still require the tax receiver’s staff. I don’t believe we could do it without additional personnel,” Neville said.
Neville has four employees in her office, who she said are all busy and could not absorb the responsibilities of the tax receiver’s office. Another point Neville made was that the tax receiver’s clerks work on a completely different schedule from that of her current staff.
Tillman said because residents are allowed to pay their taxes through the banks, the position of tax receiver is antiquated and unnecessary. Once the tax receiver position is eliminated, he said, the existing staff would move into the clerk’s office.
“This has nothing to do with Mr. Sullivan personally. It’s about savings for the town,” Tillman said.
Moving the tax receiver’s office into the clerk's office and cutting back on assessors has been explored in the past, Neville said. When a group called TaxPac was active in the town in the 1990s, she said, a study was done but showed there would “not be much of a savings” if the position was eliminated.
Tillman said a study done in the 1990s is not relevant today and the current financial climate necessitates cuts where possible. He believes political parties should not play a part in home assessment and that having elected assessors “smacks of political favoritism” in the tax office. He believes professional assessors from outside the town should be hired in civil service positions.
, who is running unopposed, takes exception to Tillman’s claims that the town’s elected assessors are not “professionals.” Duffy said all three assessors are advanced certified assessors and she has been a certified assessor for 20 years.
As elected officials, Duffy said, they can forgo raises while civil service employees have contracts with raises built-in.
Tillman said his research showed the larger Village of Hempstead has one elected assessor and two clerks in its office. He was unaware if the department had field inspectors or draftsmen.
According to Duffy, larger towns may have fewer assessors but Southold does not hire out separately field inspectors or draftsmen because the assessor do those jobs already.