Mangano, Suozzi differ on fixing Nassau's assessment system

Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Edward Mangano, speak in Old Westbury during a debate sponsored by the Nassau County VIllage Officials Association. (Oct. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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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 Nassau County budget passed early and with minimum muss and fuss on Monday. And once next week's election results are in, the $2.7-billion plan is likely to pass muster with a state control board, too.

Still, testimony on the budget during a hearing before the legislature included a stark reminder of the work to be done with Nassau's busted assessment system.

The issue of assessment has become a big part of the campaign for Nassau's county executive. On Tuesday, Kevin Law, head of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, accurately described the system as "a noose around the neck" of Nassau's financial well-being.

County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican seeking re-election, and Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat seeking to regain the job he had before Mangano defeated him, had predictable answers to Law's query on what they would do to fix the system.

Mangano said he's done it through a program that he said will save Nassau millions of dollars it otherwise might have had to fork over to residential property owners in refunds -- plus interest -- for flawed assessments.

Suozzi, the underdog, pressing an attack he's used more frequently in the past two weeks, pointed out that while Mangano's fix may have saved Nassau money, it has challenged the fairness of the system by leaving property owners who don't grieve assessments with a higher tax share than those who do.

All of which brings us back to Monday's budget hearing, in which some of the most interesting testimony about the cost of assessment came from someone who is not running for office.

Deputy County Executive Timothy Sullivan told lawmakers that the state control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, had agreed -- in 2011 -- to let Nassau borrow a total of $305 million through 2014 to fund repayment of successful assessment challenges.

But Nassau, because of political sniping between Democratic lawmakers and Mangano, could not start borrowing until this year -- after Democrats offered up votes needed to approve borrowing.

The first approved borrowing was for $75 million.

That, according to Sullivan, leaves $230 million to go, a sum Sullivan said he hoped that NIFA -- because it took so long for Democrats to compromise -- would allow Nassau to borrow beyond 2015.

Why 2015? That's the year Nassau was supposed to stop borrowing and start paying the cost of successful property assessment appeals out of pocket.

The county wants to push that goal to 2017 -- longer than Democrats held back their votes.

But here's the rub.

While Mangano made moves to deal with settling tens of thousands of residential assessment appeals, Nassau has yet to deal with appeals coming from commercial properties.

In short, while a backlog of pending residential cases may have been going down, the number of pending commercial cases most certainly has been going up.

And the county's potential liability on commercial claims dwarfs that of residential.

Which means that, for Nassau, the noose keeps pulling tighter.

Come Tuesday evening -- hopefully, given Nassau's traditional snail-like pace on posting results -- the campaign will be over.

Then, again, will come the task of restoring public faith in an assessment system that for far too long has raged out of control.

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