Democrat Jillian Guthman is the Receiver of Taxes. Republican Janet Smitelli is challenging her for the job.
Before being named Tax Receiver December 2017, Jillian Guthman served for 10 years as director of the Town’s Human Services Department as well as several positions in the Town’s Attorney’s Office. As a graduate from St. John’s University with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a law degree from Touro College, Guthman has invigorated her career through vast knowledge in experience with management skills, problem-solving and working face-to-face with both individuals and businesses to work through challenges.
Q: Could you tell me a bit about your professional background and what qualifications you have that make you suitable for this position?
A: I have dedicated the last 25 years of my career, virtually my entire career, to public service. I am an attorney for over 23 years in the public realm. Starting in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office as a criminal prosecutor. I’ve worked in the private sector as an attorney for a period, came back to the public sector, I worked as an entry-level attorney, as an Assistant Town Attorney. In Huntington, I moved up to be the Deputy Town Attorney working on cases of land use and contract negotiation, drafting legislation and employment law matters. I went to a village in Nassau where I was the lead attorney. Restructured their legal department to save a significant amount of money each year in legal fees actually $250,000 per year were saved in legal fees. So I’m an efficient leader, an efficient manager of resources both from the perspective of human capital as well as tangible resources that an entity has. After that, I went back to Huntington where I served as the director of human services concurrently with being the Town of Huntington’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer and then the labor trainer for the entire town. In the capacity as director of human services, I was responsible for the administration of all programs for seniors, for veterans, people with disabilities, women. And I’m using all that experience that I have garnered over that 25 year period to help residents right on the front line to make sure that not just the resources that are available through the town are accessible to residents but that the resources and services that are available outside through either private entities or not-for-profits in the community are available so that some of the challenges that people have can be offset. I see the tax office as really the frontline of interfacing with the community. It’s a pivotal opportunity to be able to share important information with residents. I’m specifically interested in serving the Town of Huntington in this capacity.
Q: If you could assist residents who fall behind on their property tax bill by making the tax paying process easier, what would you offer or recommend?
A: As it is now, we are able to accept partial payments. So people can lessen the challenge in terms of coming up with the tax payment in two separate installments. I’d be happy to explore more substantial ways we can provide options. One of the things that I always do, or make every effort to do, when speaking to residents, is to make sure that if they’re eligible for any exemptions that could lessen their taxes, make sure those are in place for them. Many of the people who are having challenges with their taxes, many of them may not be availing themselves to an exemption. There is a senior low-income exemption. There is a disability exemption for people on a limited income. There’s an exemption for first-time homebuyers to lessen the challenges people have and to make it more accessible. I think there’s a lot of things that are in place already to lessen the financial challenge. So awareness of those exemptions I think is critical for residents. There’s also emergency assistance that residents can get through outside entities that I could connect them with that would make dealing with the tax obligation easier.
Q: Why is this position significant to you?
A: I come from a long line of people, my parents in particular, that have contributed to the community where we’ve lived. And I feel I have recognized first hand how it feels good to give back to the community. When I was eight, I’m one of eight children, so we had a big family and really a wonderful childhood experience. But when I was eight years old my father was killed by gunfire during a robbery of his business in the city and that changed our family in a way that words can’t explain. I was impacted by that incident in many different ways but it also created increased compassion. My father was an exemplary person. He was a very hard worker. He had tremendous character and integrity. And even though I had a very short period of time to observe him, I got those principles from him and my mother who was a very active volunteer in the community. I’m easy to speak to. I’m a humble person and maybe those challenges instilled that humility in me that I had from childhood but I know that one’s life can change in a minute. I have worked in the private sector and the public sector. I know that my passion for helping others is best realized in the public sector. My personal satisfaction helping people in circumstances, helping them navigate challenges is when I feel most satisfied. And the Tax Office is a wonderful opportunity to interface with people. I feel that it’s a privilege for me to help them, and I have so much information to share to be able to help people get guidance and direction about employment opportunities, about financial support available, medical challenges. If they’re dealing with a loved one who has dementia. I have a unique ability to provide assistance there. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of information available to share, and I’m happy to be able to do that.
My Mother, Maria Heller, instilled in me at an early age the importance of serving your community. To date, my mom continues to serve in a variety of organizations and events in Oceanside and has received many accolades from her town. As a teenager, I served my community as a participant in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, 4-H clubs, and as a candy striper among others. In the past, I had volunteered for six months in Central America as part of a Department of Agriculture program to increase youth involvement and activities and to build cultural bridges with our youth and community. I have also volunteered extensive time improving our National Parks and public lands both as a VIP Interpretive Ranger with the NPS and through my involvement with the scouts. Currently I serve Troop #34 where I am an Assistant Scout Master and Merit Badge Counselor specializing in teaching youth ages 14-17 the importance of participating and serving your community, nation and world. In fact, this past summer I and a crew of scouts lived on uninhabited Big Munson Island in Florida for a week and performed an environmental service during our stay. For the past eighteen years I have been an adult leader in the BSA. I have further served my religious community for years as well.
Accordingly, I believe my past involvement has steered me into active involvement in local politics and my now desire to serve my community as Receiver of Taxes. My thirty plus years in law, business and management has now qualified me for political service in a variety of elected offices, yet Receiver of Taxes allows me to highlight and continue my law and customer/client relations experience, showcase my managerial skills, and continue to apply my strict business work ethic and fiscal responsibility to this department. I have many ideas I wish to explore such as the lowering of our credit card processing fees, increasing our efficiency in the procedure and manner bills are generated and sent to taxpayers, increasing awareness by adding voicemail for after hour instructions for those who do not utilize computers, and others.
As you are aware, the position of Receiver of Taxes for the Town of Huntington does not make policy and is charged with abiding by the New York Real Property Tax Law and Suffolk County Tax Act as per its Oath of Office. This position of Receiver of Taxes requires the strict application of the aforementioned laws regardless of my personal beliefs. I therefore believe it would be improper for me to publicly comment at this time on the remainder of your issue specific questions. I do, however, strongly believe that a Receiver of Taxes should also be constantly “babysitting” each year’s proposed bills and legislation, and continue to speak regularly with our legislators and town counsel in order to avoid and/or deter improper changes and legislation which will complicate our taxes and current procedures. Our tax bill should not be used improperly or transformed into a debt collection service since it is very difficult for many of our residents to pay current amounts.