Nassau lawmakers Monday approved a $2.4 million contract for an outside appraiser who already has done about $2 million worth of work without the approval of the county Legislature.
The GOP-controlled Rules Committee voted 4-3 along party lines after a lengthy hearing to approve the contract with Standard Valuation Services, headed by appraiser Matt Smith. The administration of County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, had hired Smith in January to handle thousands of homeowner property tax protests, without competitive bidding, interviews and records show.
Smith completed the bulk of his work in April, but the administration only sent his contract to the legislature late last month. Voters a decade ago approved a referendum requiring the Rules Committee to approve all professional service contracts of more than $25,000.
"It's unacceptably late," said Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), who has complained publicly in the past if work began before contracts were approved. "We've been put in a corner with this contract and I don't like it."
Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) blasted the county attorney's office for presenting the contract after the fact, saying lawmakers may have come up with a solution earlier that would have allowed assessment employees to do the work. Nearly 60 were laid off recently.
Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta said Smith did union work, and the union plans to sue.
Although the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which took control of the county's finances in January, must approve all contracts of $50,000 or more, it did not receive the Smith agreement until mid-June.
County Attorney John Ciampoli said the county needed to move fast in January to dispose of some 60,000 outstanding residential protests -- and 16,000 existing small claims cases -- by April to avoid millions of dollars in tax refunds. He said Smith's firm was the only one with the experience, staff and resources to do the job quickly. He contended that the appraiser saved the county about $5 million in refunds, while Smith claimed savings of $30 million.
Smith acknowledged Friday that his work was basically completed by April for about $1.9 million. Records show the county did not issue a request for proposals, a public notice that would have allowed other firms to make competitive offers.
"I would have [responded] if I had been offered," said longtime appraiser Michael Haberman, who did assessment appraisals through four past county administrations and was a consultant with Smith on the 2003 countywide reassessment.
A 1993 executive order and written policy requires Nassau to solicit at least three firms for professional contracts, but the county attorney's office reports only that it "evaluated" two other firms. Both say they did not know about the contract and were not approached about it.
Campoli said Smith was exempt from legislative oversight or procurement procedures because he was hired as an "expert witness" for court testimony. Laricchiuta said Smith's contract lists the same duties that were performed by laid-off workers.
Also Monday, the county Legislature approved borrowing $70 million for its capital program, including $4 million in repairs to the Nassau Coliseum.