Curran urges cooperation on tax phase-in

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran responded on Monday to the proposed “Assessment Bill of Rights” put forth last week by Republicans in the County Legislature, calling it an “unnecessary delay” and expressing concern that continued wrangling over assessment issues could send prospective homebuyers to Westchester or Suffolk counties instead.

“This delay by the majority creates anxiety and confusion for our residents, property owners and potential homebuyers,” Curran wrote in an email exchange with the Herald. “It is time to put politics aside and work in a bipartisan manner to fix the broken assessment system.”

Responding to charges that the process has been riven by errors, Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed responded that “simple typos in letters are not errors in assessment calculations, and it is irresponsible to mislead residents into thinking so.”

Geed conceded that the number of cases still to be adjudicated maked it likely that the Small Claims Assessment Review will require more resources. “We are already letting the court administration know that they will need a budget increase for additional court staffing,” she said.

The assessor’s office saw its staff drop by nearly half, according to an earlier report from county Comptroller Jack Schnirman, who also criticized the former Mangano administration for failing to hire a full-time qualified assessor. “The Assessment Review Commission continues to restore staffing levels,” Geed said.

Defending her proposed five-year phase-in, Curran wrote that “homeowners deserve to be protected from abrupt increases while we continue to repair the damage caused by eight years of a frozen tax roll and a corrupted assessment system.” She estimated that “50 percent of Nassau County’s homeowners will be protected from any immediate property tax increases” under the phase-in.

Dropping the level of assessment from 0.25 percent to 0.1 percent was “essential to restoring fairness to the assessment roll,” Curran spokeswoman Justine DiGiglio added. “Immediately after hiring the first qualified assessor in eight years, he analyzed the data, he found that maintaining the [0.25] level . . . would continue the inequities of the frozen roll.” Continuing assessments at the rate of 0.25 percent was a condition set by the legislative majority for approving vendor contracts, DiGiglio said.

For example, a home that has been carried on the frozen property rolls at $500,000 would pay $1,250 in property tax at 0.25 percent. In the interim, the homeowner may have undertaken improvements — remodeled the kitchen, added a third bathroom or made the basement into finished living space, for example — and now the property is assessed at $750,000. At the new rate, the homeowner would owe $750. Experts cautioned that the formula is not quite so simple, but even factoring in variables such as the desirability of certain neighborhoods or school districts, many homeowners might expect to save.

Nassau County Assessor David Moog determined on the 0.1 percent rate after Curran issued an executive order directing him to “set the level to maximize accuracy and . . . avoid the need for mass settlements” DiGiglio said. After consulting with two nationally known experts, Standard Valuation Services and Michael Haberman Associates, Moog reduced the rate to its current 0.1 percent level.

Geed said claims that the executive’s proposals would result in tax increases in excess of those permitted by state law was “completely false.” According to New York Real Property Law, annual increases of 0.6 percent or more, or total increases over any five-year period of 20 percent or more, are prohibited

“With the change to 0.1 percent . . . the vast majority of assessments will actually decrease from the prior year, which is obviously in compliance with the [6/20] law,” Geed said.

The proposed requirement that the assessor live in Nassau County — another of the items on the majority’s “Bill of Rights”— is “not important,” Geed said. She pointed out that the county hires police officers “from 12 contiguous counties. . . . Qualifications and credentials are the key requirements for an assessor.” She added that Moog received unanimous approval from the Legislature when his candidacy was put forward in June 2018.

Moog lives in Queens.

In response to charges that none of Curran’s originally scheduled meetings actually took place, Geed said that representatives of the Department of Assessment and the Assessment Review Commission “attended over 50 community meetings across Nassau County. The county executive attended many of them.” Photos from a number of these meetings appear to support Geed’s statement.

In addition, “the Department of Assessment and Assessor Moog held over 13,000 individual meetings with residents . . . Now, a series of more than 30 exemption workshops are underway throughout the county,” Geed said.

Support for Curran’s Taxpayer Protection Plan appeared to gain traction on Monday, when Laureen Harris, president of Association for a Better Long Island, a local taxpayers advocacy group, urged lawmakers to end the current market uncertainty.

“Uncertainty about property taxes translates into uncertainty in the housing market,” Harris said. “Uncertainty can paralyze homebuyers and sellers alike and negatively impact the crucial summer sales season.  We would urge all elected officials to protect the homeowner, the real estate market and the financial future of the county,” she said, echoing Curran without, however, specifically referencing Curran’s plan.

Curran’s five-year phase in has already received approval from the State Legislature and is only awaiting enabling legislation from the county to become law.