Keep Nassau tax challenge response transparent

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 19, 2012) Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

The administration of County Executive Edward Mangano worked last week to minimize a report on the wreckage that Nassau's dysfunctional assessment system has become for property owners.

But the report, from the legislature's independent office of budget review, is hardly, as an administration spokesman characterized, a political attack.

The document, instead, lays out, in easy-to-understand language, what's happening to property owners as a result of cash-strapped Nassau's continuing attempts to reduce its liability for the hundreds of millions of dollars in successful property assessment appeals.

Newsday reported last week that residential property owners are picking up a larger share of the tax levy pie because more commercial property owners are successfully challenging their assessments, too.

But a county program to settle tens of thousands of residential property challenges also has resulted in increased taxes for property owners who did not appeal.

"Throughout Nassau County, lower assessed valuations are triggering property tax rate increases. Since the county has frozen assessments, everyone, except those who successfully grieved their parcels, is paying a greater share of the property tax levy," according to the report.

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"Moreover, given magnitude of the property tax rate increase, there are some who won their property tax appeal and may be paying a higher share of the property tax," the report states.

It's a trend that was also covered in a report issued last year by county comptroller George Maragos, who, like Mangano, is a Republican.

The county has been working to lower assessed valuations as a way to help thwart the chance of property owners easily winning reductions in the future.

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For the 2012-2013 roll, the county reduced assessments in 82.2 percent of the 111,019 residential grievances filed -- a big jump over the 30.3 percent reduced for 2008-2009.

The idea of reducing so many assessments, for the cash-strapped county, seems good in principle. But reduced liability -- even though Mangano has not raised the county portion of the property tax -- has not necessarily resulted in reduced or frozen taxes for property owners.

And the policy change hasn't helped Nassau's finances, either.

According to the report, the county paid out a meager $15.4 million in refunds to property owners in 2012.

Meanwhile, Nassau's backlog of property tax refund payments mushroomed to $306.4 million, even as Mangano and Democrats in the legislature continue to fight on whether a portion of that cost should be covered through borrowing.

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"It's imperative that a solution be found and this trend be addressed," according to the report.

That's not politics; it's math.

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