The tax bill on Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s Baiting Hollow home increased by 43 percent for 2014 — amounting to a $5,200 increase due in part to a $2,300 payment owed on a previously untaxed finished basement and second-floor addition. The bill bump comes months after a contentious Republican primary for her council seat, during which news surfaced that the home improvements lacked proper town approvals.
The $2,300 represented an increased assessment for the current and prior tax years, based on those improvements, which is all the town can collect from Ms. Giglio and her husband, Mike, said Riverhead Assessor Laverne Tennenberg.
Even though the improvements, a second-story addition to the house and a finished basement, went unassessed for several years, the town by law can only go back one year in recouping unpaid taxes. Nevertheless, Ms. Giglio said, she and her husband will voluntarily pay the rest of the back taxes owed on those improvements, a figure Ms. Tennenberg estimated at about $15,000.
It was revealed during last year’s primary that the Giglios had failed to pay taxes on additions to the property dating back several years. However, because the town is only legally allowed to collect back taxes a year after they were due, the rest will come in the form of a donated gift to the town.
“Under the law, she has no obligation to pay that,” Ms. Tennenberg said. “We can only legally go back one year, on anybody.”
But Ms. Giglio says the couple will begin making gifts this year, spreading the payments over several years once the amount owed is pinned down. She said, however, that she believes the total will be lower than $15,000.
“I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard,” Ms. Giglio said in an interview Tuesday.
The additions to the home, and the fact that Ms. Giglio hadn’t received certificates of occupancy for them or paid property tax on them, came to light last summer during the town election campaign, in which Ms. Giglio ran in both a Republican primary and in the general election to retain her council seat. GOP primary candidate Anthony Coates — who ultimately finished third in a field of three candidates — had called for her resignation at the time.
“That was stuff we hadn’t picked up,” Ms. Tennenberg said of the oversights.
The additions were never figured into the Giglios’ assessment but that fact didn’t come to light until after March 1, which is the cutoff date for determining what property improvements will be assessed. The assessors then had to petition the town’s Board of Assessment Review in September to add those items to the Giglios’ assessment, Mr. Tennenberg said.
Normally, it’s the property owners, not town assessors, who appear before the Board of Assessment Review, which is independent of the assessors. But the assessors have the option to appear, Ms. Tennenberg said. Ms. Giglio could have challenged the additional assessment at that hearing, but chose not to.
Board of Assessment Review hearings usually deal with homeowners trying to lower tax bills.
The Giglios’ exact property bill for 2014 is $17,222, up from $12,051 in 2013. They are being made to pay back $2,317, which represents taxes from the previous year. New assessments are typically triggered by building permits. The finished basement, completed around 2009, was permitted in 2013 and the second-story addition first received a building permit in 2009, records show.
An in-ground swimming pool that first received a building permit in 1999 but didn’t get a certificate of occupancy until 2013 was already being assessed, Ms. Tennenberg said.
The assessment on the Giglios’ home increased from $77,200 to $91,500, an increase of 18.5 percent. The town assesses property at about 15 percent of market value, and the property’s market value increased from $505,556 to $572,591 as a result of the improvements, records show.
The assessor said it’s common for people to avoid being assessed on improvements made to their homes, and it’s very rare that anyone voluntarily agrees to pay back taxes once they don’t have to.
Ms. Giglio said she was unsure if the Town Board would have to pass a resolution to accept the gifts.
“Nobody else in my 26-year history has ever paid back voluntarily any taxes they didn’t have to,” Ms. Tennenberg said.