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Manorhaven, Its Attorney Part Ways

Confirming rumors that had been flying around the village for days, Manorhaven Mayor Giovanna Giunta announced last Thursday that village attorney Charles Casolaro had been “terminated effective October 8.”  James E. Toner was appointed village attorney to replace Casolaro. Toner’s practice, Law Office of James E. Toner is located in Mineola.

Casolaro and Giunta declined to comment on the reason for the termination.

Speculation on why Casolaro was terminated focused on his legal advice with respect to the village action last spring in passing a tax increase on commercial properties that was criticized as disproportionately high compared to residential properties. Business owners incurred sticker shock as they opened their tax bills in June and saw that their village tax rates had increased a whopping 51%.     

Local resident and former village trustee Jim Avena said at the time that he believed the disproportionate increase on “one class of taxpayer is illegal and that there will be lawsuits as a result.”

Casolaro responded that opponents of the increase had the right to sue but he doubted if their challenges would be successful. In an interview with the Port News last June, Trustee Lucretia Steele explained why the trustees decided to raise the commercial tax rate by 51 percent, saying they set out to balance past years. In the 2005-2006 tax year, residential rates doubled from $20.31 per $100 of assessed valuation to $42 per $100 while commercial rates inched up from $64 to $69 per $100. During the next six years the residential tax rate continued to increase, ending in 2012-2013 at $134 per $100. During the same period, the commercial rate decreased in some years and went up in others. The net effect in the last tax year was a commercial tax rate of $69 per $100 of assessed valuation for commercial properties.

Nevertheless, several local business owners filed a class action law suit against the village.  Businessman Peter Dejana filed suit independently. Both suits claim that it is illegal for the village to single out one class of taxpayer for such a steep increase. Toner and the mayor declined to comment further on the matter because of the pending litigation, although Toner did confirm that the core issue in the plaintiffs’ actions is the unfavorable treatment of one class of taxpayer.

At a packed meeting of the village board last week, Jim Avena questioned the trustees on two issues: compensation paid to Casolaro in the amount of $6,800 for the month of October and how the $200,000 in projected revenue from the tax increase would be made up in the budget if the plaintiffs’ law suits are successful.

Giunta said that Casolaro should only have been paid through October 7 and a demand letter had been sent asking for the refund of the balance of Casolaro’s October compensation. Left unanswered was how the village would address any impact on the budget.

Casolaro was appointed village attorney immediately after Giunta was elected, in June of 2012. Before that he served as deputy counsel for the incorporated villages of Rockville Center and Farmingdale.  

“We set out to address an unfair situation that exists in the village tax structure,” Steele said. “In surrounding villages commercial tax rates are higher than residential rates.”