Editor's note: Carrie Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, is a Nassau County legislator who represents the 3rd District.
The former county executive, Ed Mangano, overhauled the tax system that reversed years of successful efforts to increase the accuracy and fairness of county assessments. The result was a broken system that froze assessments, and forced homeowners to grieve annually, decreased fair market values for some and punished those who did not grieve. This system transferred $1.7 billion in taxes from those who appealed successfully to those who didn’t by increasing tax rates on school, county, town and special district taxes.
Newsday recently released a special report on this issue titled, “Separate and Unequal,” which revealed this injustice. In fact, in producing that report, one of the authors, Matt Clark, attended and studied a tax grievance workshop that I held with attorney Jeffrey Gold, a former assessment review commissioner who specializes in tax grievance challenges.
Based on the current broken system, I know the best way to help my community is to encourage as many people as possible to file grievances. Therefore, I have organized many workshops, broadcasted workshops on YouTube and social media for those who could not attend, and even opened my own law office for people to come to learn how to grieve their property taxes without going to a law firm or legal professional who requires payment.
There are two possible plans for re-assessment. My biggest concern with any of these plans is that the county needs an assessment professional in place to deal with these issues. Without a qualified assessor, the rolls will never become accurate. Further, until the rolls are completely accurate for all properties, all residents will continue to pay disproportionate taxes — with some overpaying and some under-paying.
The first plan would be a full reassessment in one year, ignoring any assessment caps. This plan would be the quickest way to reassess and ensure everyone is paying a proportionately fair share. However, those who have grieved successfully, and are currently greatly under-assessed, would potentially see large tax increases.
The second plan, which will go before the Legislature on March 26, would phase in the assessment, with the current 6 percent per year, and 20 percent over five years, cap on assessment increases. This plan, endorsed by the Republican majority that supported former Mangano’s broken system, could take a decade or longer to make the tax rolls accurate.
The homes that are greatly under-assessed would slowly move up to their fair market value, while homes that have not been grieved, and are assessed closer to their current fair market value, would reach it in one to two years. Those residents, who have seen large tax increases these past seven years, would continue to pay more than their fair share. Unfortunately, many of these homes that would see this continued burden are in minority communities, such as Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5. For homes in communities that file grievances consistently, the phased-in plan would not impact them in the short term, based on extensive discussions and analysis with Legislator Siela Bynoe (District 2) and with counsel.
For example, based on our analysis of county records, the average home that grieves their taxes in East Williston (which is a community where the majority of homeowners grieve their taxes) has an assessed value of 41 percent of the proposed market value. On the county roll, that home is valued at $273,000 and its real market value is $652,000.
Under the phased-in system, it would take 10 years or more for that home’s assessed value to align with its real or full market value. The phased-in system would benefit areas like East Williston or Wantagh, where homeowners have consistently grieved their taxes, making their assessed values relatively low.
As for areas that do not challenge their tax assessments, the phased-in solution would have an adverse impact on homeowners in the short term. For example, based on our analysis of county records, the average home in Hempstead or Elmont (which are communities where the majority of homeowners may not grieve their taxes) has an assessed value of 88 percent of the proposed market value. On the county roll, that home is valued at $253,000 and its real market value is $275,000. Because these homeowners have not challenged or grieved their taxes, it would take less time for the assessed value to equal the market value. So in a short amount of time, they would see an increase in their taxes based on the phased-in solution.
My intent here is not say that this is a black or white issue. My intent is not to say that this is a racist system that places an unfair taxing burden on black and or minority communities, which historically receive fewer government services and attention to quality-of-life issues compared to white communities. As a legislator, it is my job to present to my community any information that shows rising property taxes.
From our research, the phased-in plan that will be considered by the Legislature on March 26 could result in tax increases to minority-majority districts, such as Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5. I strongly encourage the county executive and my fellow legislators to work together to find a solution that benefits all county residents equally.