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IRS

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. hosted a press conference at the comptroller’s office Feb. 11 saying the IRS has agreed with him about taxing recipients of septic system grants. Photo by David Luces

After nearly a year of waiting, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has ruled that Suffolk County homeowners should pay federal taxes on county grants that were used to upgrade septic systems. 

In a Jan. 15 letter from the IRS, the agency said the grants count as taxable income, regardless of whether homeowners received payments or not. 

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at the O’Dwyer’s home in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

The determination comes after Suffolk  County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) requested a private letter ruling on whether the grants should be counted as gross income. Beginning last year, Kennedy’s office sent 1099 forms to program participants, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not the homeowners.   

At the time, the comptroller’s decision led to controversy and political fighting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The executive’s administration has cited the prototype denitrifying septic systems as a key piece of fighting nitrogen overload in coastal waters. Kennedy and Bellone ran against each other for county executive later that year.  

Kennedy said at a Feb.11 press conference that the ruling has upheld their approach to issue tax forms from the very beginning. 

“They [the Bellone administration] have chosen to simply claim that I’ve made an effort to politicize this issue,” the comptroller said. 

He added that while his decision may “not be popular,” Kennedy blamed the tax issue on how the septic program was set up. 

“There may be ways to modify this program but it’s not up to me, it’s up to them,” he said. “We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

Peter Scully, deputy county executive, who heads the county’s water quality programs as the titular water czar, said Kennedy continues to simply play politics with the septic program. 

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption,” he said. “The fact that the comptroller is essentially celebrating the ruling speaks volumes about his motives.”

“We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Scully noted that since the comptroller’s initial decision last year, they have altered application documents to make clear to applicants that the grants they were applying for could be subject to income tax. 

While some individuals have decided not to move forward with the program, homeowners are still applying for grants. In January alone 111 homeowners signed up, Scully added. 

Since the program’s inception in 2017, the county has disbursed 293 grants and expended $3 million. In addition, the county received $10 million in state funding for the septic system program.

The Bellone administration has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county. Nitrogen pollution has caused harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

In a statement, Bellone continued to call Kennedy’s decision political. 

“The comptroller’s actions have been contrary to the intent of the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, the legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel, and longstanding practices used by similar programs in Maryland and other municipal jurisdictions,” Bellone said. “He chose to politicize water quality and decimate a program that has been praised by environmental, labor, and business leaders alike … In the meantime, our water quality program is running full steam ahead.”

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption.”

— Peter Scully

The deputy executive said their main focus is protecting homeowners as they may now be exposed to new tax liability. They are also prepared to challenge the IRS ruling. 

Tom O’Dwyer, a Strong’s Neck resident and engineer, has enthusiastically installed one of these systems at his own home. He said while he was aware that the grants could be potentially taxable, he and others had been “optimistic” that they wouldn’t be required to pay taxes on the grants. 

“We got the 1099 in the mail the other day,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who also upgraded, nobody really expected this to happen … this is a blow to everyone.”

Despite the ruling, O’Dwyer still believes that he made the right choice in upgrading and thinks the septic program is still a good cost-effective option. He plans on talking to his tax adviser to discuss what his options are moving forward.  

The Strong’s Neck resident also acknowledged that the ruling could end up hurting the momentum of the program. 

“I think it could affect homeowners who want to voluntarily upgrade their system,” O’Dwyer said. “With the increased tax liability, they’ll have to pay more out of pocket and some might think it’s not worth it.” 

The county executive’s office has plans to work with federal representatives to reverse the IRS decision. They have already had discussions with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3), Scully said.

Suozzi has already sent a letter to IRS Commisioner Charles Rettig, saying he strongly opposes the decision and that it undermines the program’s mission.

Go around me

A 47-year-old man from Asbury Park, N.J., was found in the middle of Old Nichols Road in Islandia just before 5:00 a.m. on Feb. 7, passed out in the driver’s seat of his 2016 Mazda, police said. He was charged with driving while intoxicated.

Marijuana mall

In the parking lot of the Smith Haven Mall just after 7:00 p.m. on Feb. 6, police said a 23-year-old man from Hampton Bays was arrested for possession of marijuana. He was sitting in the driver’s seat of a 2015 Volkswagen. He was charged with criminal possession of marijuana.

Driving drunk with a child

At about 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 6, a 30-year-old woman from Holtsville was driving a Nissan Frontier while drunk with her 5-year-old daughter in the car on Hawkins Avenue in Ronkonkoma, police said. She also had food stolen from Stop&Shop on Portion Road in Ronkonkoma, according to police. She was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child under the age of 15, endangering the welfare of a child, petit larceny and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. She also violated an order of protection prohibiting her from being under the influence in the presence of her daughter, police said.

Burned

Police arrested a 21-year-old man from Kings Park for having marijuana in his home around midnight on Feb. 5. Police discovered the drugs when they responded to a fire at the home. He was charged with criminal possession of marijuana.

Foul pole

A 24-year-old man from Ronkonkoma was arrested after he crashed his 2000 Honda Civic into a telephone pole on North Country Road in Smithtown at about 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 5, police said. He was charged with operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit.

Mischief on Midwood

At about 2:00 a.m. on Feb. 4, a 22-year-old man from Nesconset was arrested for breaking the window of a home on Midwood Avenue, police said. He was charged with criminal mischief.

Dodge couldn’t dodge police

A 42-year-old man from Lindenhurst was arrested on Feb. 4 in Islandia and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle. Police said he was driving on Veterans Memorial Highway just before 9:00 p.m. in a 2002 Dodge when they discovered he was driving with a revoked license.

Swerving SUV

At about 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 4, a 53-year-old man from Smithtown was stopped by police for failing to stay in his lane while driving his 2004 GMC Envoy on Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge, police said. He was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

Ha-Sheesh

Police arrested a 17-year-old man from Smithtown and charged him with criminal possession of a controlled substance at 11:00 a.m. on Feb. 3. Police said he had hashish and THC oil when he was arrested on Lincoln Blvd. in Hauppauge.

Heroin arrest

A 27-year-old man from Shirley was arrested in the parking lot of Woodmont Village Apartments in Lake Ronkonkoma at about 11:00 p.m. on Feb. 3 with heroin on him, police said. He was charged with loitering and unlawful use of a controlled substance.

Long Island arrest-way

A 47-year-old man from Kings Park was arrested on Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. after police said he was driving a 1998 Subaru on the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills while on prescription pills without a prescription. He was charged with seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, first-degree operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs and second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

High up on the lake

On Feb. 6, a 46-year-old man from Centerport was arrested after police said he had marijuana in his possession at 5:25 p.m. on the corner of Main Street and Lakeside Drive in Centerport. He was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.

Quite a couple

Police said a 23-year-old man from Hicksville and a 22-year-old woman from Massapequa had cocaine in their possession at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 on the corner of New York Avenue and West 21st Street in Huntington Station. They were both charged with seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful use of a controlled substance and loitering.

Corner of oh no and trouble

A 20-year-old man from Huntington was arrested on the corner of 11th Avenue and West 21st Street in Huntington Station on Feb. 6 at 5:15 p.m. after police said he had marijuana in his possession. He was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.

But she got a fake ID

Police said a 39-year-old woman from Brooklyn used a fraudulent credit card and identification while shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue on Walt Whitman Road in Huntington on Feb. 5. According to police, the woman used two fraudulent credit cards just after 4 p.m. and tried to impersonate the woman using a fraudulent driver’s license to open a new credit card. She was charged with fourth degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal impersonation of another person, second-degree forgery of public record, and second-degree possession of a forged instrument.

Jewelry gone

An unknown person broke into a residence on Andrea Lane in Greenlawn on Feb. 5 between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., and stole jewelry.

RIP GMC

Police said an unknown person punctured the tires of a 2002 GMC parked on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood on Feb. 5 between 5:50 and 6:20 p.m.

Oh, boy!

Police arrested two 17-year-olds from Port Jefferson Station for petit larceny on Feb. 6. The pair allegedly stole Playboy cologne from the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove a month earlier, on Jan. 7. The teens were arrested at the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant on Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station.

What a saint

On Feb. 7, police arrested a woman from Mastic Beach for grand larceny. The 33-year-old woman stole a wallet from another woman’s pocketbook that day at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, police said. The wallet contained several credit cards. She was arrested at the scene, around 10:05 p.m.

Shopping spree

A 17-year-old girl from Centereach was arrested on Jan. 31 for petit larceny after officials said she entered the Walmart on Nesconset Highway in East Setauket and stole assorted makeup and bath products. Police arrested her at the scene at 7 p.m.

Welcome home

Between 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 1, someone entered a residence on Jarvin Road in Port Jefferson Station and stole cash and jewelry.

Route to handcuffs

Police arrested a man from Patchogue for driving while ability impaired on the afternoon of Feb. 5. He had been driving east on Route 25A in Stony Brook when an officer pulled him over for speeding. Police allegedly discovered the man was intoxicated and driving with a suspended license.

Fight to the finish

On Jan. 31 around 1:45 p.m., two men got into a fight on Route 25A in Port Jefferson. Police said the men were in the street when one of them punched the other in the face. The victim refused to go to the hospital.

Green-thumbed thief

Someone entered the property of a residence on East Gate Drive in Mount Sinai and stole a Japanese maple tree planted in the yard. Police said the incident happened between 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 and 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 3.

The rest is history

Police said someone broke the door lock and latch of the Miller Place Historical Society building between noon on Feb. 4 and 1:45 p.m. the following day.

Bang bang into the room

On Feb. 4 around 9 p.m., someone shot a BB gun at a residence on Longview Avenue in Rocky Point. A pellet left a small hole in the window.

Weekend allowance

An unknown person stole a purse from a 2012 Hyundai parked outside a residence on Hawkins Road in Centereach between 6 p.m. on Feb. 6 and 9:30 p.m. the following day. It was unclear whether the suspect broke into the car or if it had been left unlocked.

Gold digger

On the morning of Feb. 4, a woman at home on Middle Country Road in Selden received a scam call from someone posing as a federal employee of the Internal Revenue Service. The unidentified person told the woman that she would be charged if she didn’t send money. Police said the victim sent more than $1,000 to the caller.

According to police, a woman on Glen Court in Stony Brook received a scam call on Feb. 5 from a man who claimed to be her grandson and asked her for money. The woman sent more than $3,000 to the man.

The Rite to remain silent

A 32-year-old man was arrested for petit larceny on Feb. 7. Police said the Middle Island man took electronic items from the Rite Aid on College Road in Selden. He was arrested at the scene.

Sight for sore eyes

Police arrested a woman from Centereach for assault on Feb. 3, after she allegedly punched another woman in the face and injured her right eye on North Coleman Road. Police said the victim required medical attention.

And you’re out

On Feb. 2 at 7:56 p.m., police arrested a man for driving while ability impaired. According to officials, the man was unconscious when he crashed his 2001 Toyota into another car in a parking lot near Route 347 in Stony Brook. Police said the man had overdosed on heroin and was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital.