East Williston trustees spar with critic over tax system

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East Williston trustees spar with critic over tax system
Stephan Leccese, an East Williston resident and security advocate, speaks at a village Board of Trustees meeting in 2016. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

East Williston trustees sparred with a resident Tuesday night while deflecting his questions about the village’s property tax system.

Stephan Leccese, a frequent critic of the village over the past year, asked the Board of Trustees to publicly respond at Tuesday’s meeting to his claim that East Williston’s more than 800 homes are “unequally assessed.” Leccese, a finance executive, first made the argument by sending the board an analysis of the village tax rolls in April.

Mayor David Tanner said he was not intimately familiar with how the village assesses each property, but said “the board’s comfortable with the system that we have currently.”

The dispute escalated, with Leccese charging the system favored trustees and Tanner saying Leccese was only upset because he had unsuccessfully appealed his assessment. Leccese denied the charge.

After Leccese tried to cut him off, Trustee James Iannone told Leccese, “You can shut your mouth and respond after I’m done speaking.”

“When you articulate facts, you can go ahead,” Leccese responded.

In an April letter to trustees, Leccese argued many East Williston homes could be overtaxed because the village only adjusts the assessments of a few of them each year.

The homes of three of the five village trustees appear to be undervalued, meaning the officials might pay less tax than they should, Leccese said. He called the village system “deeply flawed” on Tuesday.

Tanner rejected Leccese’s analysis, questioning the data he used and saying he is not a property tax expert.

Tanner said the village created its own tax roll several years ago because Nassau County’s assessment data was always more than a year out of date.

The village and its hired assessor “make adjustments” annually based on data from the state’s Office of Real Property Tax Services and construction on particular homes, Tanner said.

Tanner refused to answer a reporter’s question after the meeting about whether every home’s assessed value is adjusted annually or just a few, saying he did not want to go beyond his statements during the meeting.

“We have a process in place,” Tanner said. “It’s a similar process that many other villages on Long Island have.”

Leccese accused Tanner and the board of ducking the issue. In an email Wednesday morning, he said “community interest and concern over this topic continues to grow” despite trustees “willfully ignoring” it.

“You’re inaccurate and misrepresent facts and [are] uninformed and don’t take action on village issues,” Leccese told Tanner.

But the trustees took exception to Leccese’s claim that they were personally benefiting from the village’s assessment procedures.

Iannone said it was false that all trustees had pulled building permits to renovate their homes but had not seen their assessments rise, as Leccese charged. Leccese walked back the claim, saying only two trustees had pulled permits.

“Frankly, I have a violent objection to anyone accusing me of not paying my fair share,” Trustee Anthony Casella said.

Leccese has butted heads with trustees before, pushing for more aggressive security measures following a spate of burglaries in 2016, even though fewer crimes occurred that year than in 2015.

James Daw, a former village trustee, said Leccese should run for a seat on the board rather than just “sit here and gripe.”

Other residents have encouraged Leccese to run, he said in an email, but he has not decided whether to do so.

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