It’s been an interesting six months for Islip tax receiver Andy Wittman, who was newly elected to the position after his predecessor Alexis Weik campaigned for and won the 2021 NYS Senate race.
A lifelong local, growing up first in Bayport, now residing in Sayville, Wittman has significant volunteer chops, including joining the Bayport Fire Department when he was 17 (he’s still an active member), serving as an EMT for Sayville Community Ambulance for 12 years, and becoming a Sayville Rotarian. Wittman was a 9-11 dispatcher for Suffolk County Fire & Rescue, joined the FDNY in 2000 and retired in 2012. He started a real estate company 15 years ago, flipping and selling houses, and is president of MY NY Home Solution LLC and MY NY Student Housing with projects and investors, although that has taken more of a backseat.
The Suffolk County News asked him about his work as the real estate tax deadline nears.
The Suffolk County News: Most people don’t know what a tax receiver does except the obvious; give us a synopsis.
Andy Wittman: This is the CliffsNotes version. We print and mail out the property tax bill every December and are the agency that collects and receives the property tax payments during the six-month collection period (May and January), whether it’s the individual homeowner, banks, etc. During the six-month time frame, we distribute those monies to the taxing districts including the school district, fire department, town, county and state. We do that through the town comptroller’s office. The biggest disconnect with people is the confusion between the roles of the tax receiver’s office and the tax assessor’s office. We’re like brother and sister and do things together, but have our own individual roles. The tax rate, assessed value, that all comes from the assessor’s office and goes on the individual tax bill. We are the agency that sends out the bill. Usually, the calls I get are about the assessments for exemptions, like firefighter or EMS exemptions and enhanced STAR, but that’s through the assessor’s office.
SCN: You’ve mentioned in the past that the job involves a lot of calming people down when they call and problem solving.
AW: When I was interviewed for this position, someone asked me, ‘What are your skills and qualifications?’ In my opinion, my experience in fire rescue, as a 9-11 dispatcher and with EMS service, was germane. My answer was simple. In fire and EMS, you’re dealing with people in crisis, so you have to get the information from the public to solve the problem or get help to them. And you’ve got to be able to communicate, calm them down and do your job. As tax receiver, you’re dealing directly with the taxpayer. They have concerns, anger, frustration. If you’re not trained, you can be quick to get your backup. You have to not be able to take their frustration personally, walk them through their issue, and get them across the finish line in understanding and compliance. Some calls are from traditional bankers and real estate people. But other calls include someone whose mother can’t find the bill and the son or daughter says, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ You can come in person, do the payment by mail, or I can walk you through our online service. We can also help you by cell phone if you’re out of town. I enjoy that it’s a microcosm of what I did in emergency services. Sometimes they think you set the rates, like the library rate, fire district rate, police, but I’m just the middleman.
SCN: There was a problem at one point with those blue tax envelopes. What happened?
AW: In December we send out the bill, an online flyer, a rate and code sheet, and two blue envelopes. In January, we have to prepare to send out the tax receipts in February, so the big outside envelope has to be the same as the ones in December. The envelope crisis was thankfully solved. In my first couple of months here there was a shortage of supplies. One hit was paper and that was envelopes. I reached out to our supplier in mid-January. It meant 50,000 to 60,000 envelopes; they’re specialty envelopes, but we were able to thankfully solve the problem and send out tax receipts in a timely way. We have all seen in the last 15 years that so much more is done online with payments, like the mortgage or gas and electric bill. But I’m government and regulated by NYS property law. I don’t have the ability to contact you electronically and say, ‘Please pay your bill.’ I want to amend the law to make it more flexible, not because of the envelope crisis, but to utilize the ability to send a blast email to those with online accounts. Then I wouldn’t have to print or mail to those who already have an account, so we’d be saving money on paper, printing and postage. When I send out a tax bill, it costs 78 cents. Printing, mailing, etc., is done in-house. If we did bulk rate, how much would we save? If we can implement and purchase or lease this bulk rate mailing software, we’re looking at a $30,000 to $40,000 saving for tax receiver’s office, but I’m sure we can use that bulk rate shipping with any other department.
SCN: When are your busiest times?
AW: The two busiest times are May, December, and January. I hired two new full-time personnel; we now have seven because we were very understaffed. We’re the third largest township in New York State, but second largest in collection behind Brookhaven Town.
SCN: Has your background molded you?
AW: I was very community-oriented at a young age. Mom and dad instilled that in me. Mom was secretary to four supervisors in Islip and dad was a police officer before Suffolk County had a police department. Growing up, I was influenced by grandparents on both sides; they were off the boat from Italy. We went to church religiously, had dinner on Sunday after church, and came back to my house and my grandparents’ house. Both parents volunteered at church; my dad was a volunteer firefighter and my grandfather at the Brentwood Fire Department. Both parents worked, but someone was always home for the kids. My mom still volunteers and is a charter member of the Columbiettes for St. Lawrence as a Eucharistic minister. I’m married with three children and I’m still trying to balance work life, family life, political life, and volunteer life.
SCN: Okay, reiterate what the tax deadline is?
AW: It’s Jan. 10 for the first half, May 31 for the second. Questions for Andy? Email him at AWittman@islipny.gov. Phone support: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST at 631-224-5580. The Islip Receiver of Taxes Office is at 40 Nassau Ave. No. 4, Islip and is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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