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01/01/18 4:31pm
01/01/2018 4:31 PM

In trying to decide what to say at her inauguration speech Monday, newly sworn-in Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she kept coming back to a 2014 commencement speech given by Naval Admiral William McRaven at the University of Texas at Austin. READ

11/03/17 6:00am
11/03/2017 6:00 AM

Tax Assessor
Four-year term; one open seat
Salary: $83,846

Susan Ambro

Hamlet: Wading River

Occupation: Attorney

Party lines: Democratic, Independence, Working Families

About her: Ms. Ambro, 58, is an attorney with the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, where she represents clients who cannot afford to pay. A graduate of the University of Bridgeport law school, she has been an attorney for 31 years. Ms. Ambro’s husband, Richard, is a state Supreme Court Judge in Suffolk County.

Ms. Ambro did not respond to a questionnaire sent to candidates by the Riverhead News-Review and was not present last Thursday at the only public candidate forum that included the assessor candidates.

In May, when she was nominated to run for assessor, she said, “I’ve been amazed over the years at how nothing has ever come out of the assessors’ office that was ever good for me, and maybe for most of the people who sit here. I think it’s an office that’s overlooked because it’s not the supervisor or the council or maybe because it’s not making policy. But in a way, it is, because it’s dealing with your most important asset — your cold, hard cash.”

She said she feels the assessors’ office lacks accountability.

Laverne Tennenberg

Hamlet: Riverhead

Occupation: Assessor (incumbent)

Party lines: Republican, Conservative

About her: Ms. Tennenberg, 59, is a Riverhead native and graduate of Hofstra University. She holds the NYS designation of professional assessor and is responsible for the valuation of $7 billion in real property. She says she has a comprehensive knowledge of the real property tax law and is proficient in all assessment administration functions. She was first elected in 1989.

Her pitch: Ms. Tennenberg said she strives to educate taxpayers about the property tax system, which can be complex and confusing. Over the years, she said, she’s computerized many assessment functions to increase efficiency in the office. Property tax exemptions are a large part of her work, she said, and all applications are reviewed carefully for eligibility. She recently helped taxpayers in manufactured home communities receive STAR property tax credit checks that were owed to them from 2016, she said.

In her words: “This personal touch has been the hallmark of my tenure with the town, and is what I believe to be the primary function of all public employees … to provide the best service possible.”

01/17/14 10:00am
01/17/2014 10:00 AM
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

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.

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11/02/13 2:01pm
11/02/2013 2:01 PM

Laverne Tennenberg and Gregory Fischer are candidates for tax assessor.

Four-year term (full time)
Salary: $74,449/$84,047 for chair

Laverne Tennenberg
Hamlet: Riverhead
Occupation: Assessor
Party lines: Republican, Conservative

About her: Ms. Tennenberg, 55, is a Riverhead native and Hofstra University graduate. First elected in 1989, she has served as chair of the town Board of Assessors since 1997. In 1996, she was admitted to the lnstitute of Assessing Officers and was designated a professional assessor. She previously served as president and treasurer of the Suffolk County Assessors’ Association and is treasurer of the New York State Assessors’ Association.

Her pitch: Ms. Tennenberg says her knowledge and experience are crucial to the operation of the office, especially with the Basic STAR registration process currently underway. One of her areas of concentration, she says, is in ensuring that the residences of those living in manufactured home communities are assessed fairly and equitably. She also assists seniors with exemptions, does splits and assemblage of properties and manages the assessment software system, among other duties. She has overseen the computerization of the office.

Her words: “Experience counts and you can count on me to get the job done.”

Gregory Fischer
Hamlet: Calverton
Occupation: Business/strategic consultant, patented inventor, advocate/whistle-blower
Party lines: Democrat, Independence

About him: Mr. Fischer, 57, has three business degrees and over three decades’ experience in industry, accounting, economics and planning. His government and civic experience includes work with the Calverton Civic Association, the City of New York and the U.S. Department of Justice. He has filed lawsuits that are in progress and aimed at breaking up the Long Island Power Authority and forcing an election of trustees to run the utility. He describes himself as an “insourcer” that works to create American jobs.

His pitch: Mr. Fischer calls taxes the people’s money and says properties must be assessed fairly, with incoming taxes spent wisely and frugally. He feels this isn’t being done and wants to bring more transparency to the assessor’s office. He says commercial assessments are unjustifiably low, forcing residential taxpayers to subsidize businesses. He also believes the assessor’s office can be used to provide a source for “local stimulus” to benefit town taxpayers.

His words: “I promise to navigate Riverhead toward a better controlled government and proper development.”

11/02/13 2:00pm

Laverne Tennenberg

Incumbent Republican Assessor Laverne Tennenberg was first elected in 1989 and has served the people of Riverhead well ever since. She’s a smart and dedicated public servant who, as chairperson, has worked to keep office technology up-to-date. She’s also well-liked and personable, and she steers clear of controversy.

On the other hand, her Democratic challenger, Greg Fischer, seems to enjoy stirring the pot as much as he enjoys running for office. (He last ran for town supervisor on his own Riverhead First line in 2011.) He has made no clear, coherent case for why a change is needed in the assessors’ office. Even at the Democratic nominating convention he continued to carry on about instituting an elected board of trustees to run LIPA, something well beyond the scope of any office at the town level. The results of this latest campaign, we hope, will signal to Mr. Fischer that his 15 minutes are over.