Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

There’s something awry when the responsibility for fair assessments rests with individual property owners rather than the municipality that’s supposed to be handling the job.

Yet, in Nassau’s topsy-turvy assessment system, that’s just what is happening.

Property owners who trust the system — that is, who get their bill, and pay it — end up being punished.

Property owners who fight the system, year after year, reap significant rewards.

That’s just wrong in a county where residents pay the highest taxes in the nation — heck, that’s wrong in any county, anywhere.

Nonetheless, that’s how Nassau rolls.

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Newsday’s Matt Clark took more than a year to build his own database — gathering, crunching and analyzing the changes in Nassau’s assessment system under a program to settle assessment challenges instituted by County Executive Edward Mangano seven years ago.

The results? While Mangano’s program saved financially ailing Nassau hundreds of millions of dollars in successful assessment challenge refunds, it ended up creating a system increasingly weighted against Nassau’s middle class, seniors, minorities and the poor.

The details are damning.

Two houses, side by side, in Syosset: Scott Manes — who appealed his assessment and won — saw his taxes go down by $88 over that time. Neighbor, Rick Cafiero — who trusted Nassau’s system — saw his rise by more than $4,3000 over the same period.

There’s no fairness in that.

What about Jane Esopa, 74, who lives in Freeport? Her decision to trust the system — and her reluctance to hire an assessment grievance firm, which, by the way, is unnecessary since property owners can grieve on their own — ended up jacking her taxes by 75 percent — $4,884 — over five years.

That’s no small sum. To pay the bill, Esopa’s husband, before his death earlier this year, went back to work mowing lawns — at age 79, and while suffering from esophageal cancer.

That’s cruel.

What about Danny Liang of East Meadow, a first time homeowner, who, at 31, is of the generation that Long Island so sorely needs to grow? He works with computers, which presumably put Nassau’s online appeals system easily in reach when he looked to reduce his taxes.

Except that the county’s system informed him that he was not eligible for a refund.. He decided to challenge only after taking the initiative of attending a workshop held by former Assessment Review Commission member Jeff Gold.

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Why is the burden of ensuring a fair assessment on him, the Syosset neighbors and seniors such as Esopa?

In an interview, Mangano agreed that the settlement program ended up institutionalizing inequities in the assessment system.

Still, he defended the program, saying it left every property owner in Nassau with the opportunity to change their assessment — rather than have all Nassau property owners bear the burden of paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax refunds.

“I made it better,” Mangano said. “I made it less costly for taxpayers.”

But did the change fix the assessment system?

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“I tried, but it’s up to New York state to make it better,” he said, by rescinding Nassau’s responsibility for bearing the cost of assessment appeal refunds for schools, towns and other taxing entities.

Until then, the onus is on the individual rather than the county — which puts seniors, middle class residents and anyone else who trusts the broken system in peril.

Which is just plain wrong.