Haber offers fixes for Nassau tax system

Democratic candidate for Nassau County Executive Adam Haber Democratic candidate for Nassau County Executive Adam Haber is seen at at a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court house in Mineola, unveiling his proposal to fix the county's flawed tax assessment system. (July 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Adam Haber, a Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive, Thursday unveiled a proposal to overhaul what he called the county's "failed tax assessment system."

At a news conference in Mineola, Haber criticized his opponent in the September Democratic primary, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano for relying on borrowing to pay back millions of dollars in property tax refunds to property owners.

The county currently owes about $300 million to commercial and residential property owners who have successfully disputed their assessments.

Haber said Suozzi, who was in office from 2002 to 2009, "had eight years to stop wasting taxpayer money and fix the system, and even had a Democratic majority in the [county] legislature, and he did not propose any reforms to solve the problem."

Haber said Mangano, who is running for a second term, has "taxed our future with tremendous amounts of unsustainable tax assessment refund borrowing."

Suozzi's campaign spokesman Danny Kazin defended the Suozzi administration's handling of tax refunds. Kazin said Suozzi instituted a "pay-as-you-go," system that paid refunds from Nassau's general fund. He said Suozzi also "reduced the backlog [of refunds] by 75 percent and dramatically cut Nassau's overall debt."

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Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Mangano is "cleaning up" the "debt accumulated on . . . Suozzi's watch while also holding the line on property taxes."

Haber proposed restoring about 60 jobs that have been cut from the Nassau County Tax Assessor's Office since 2010. He said the $3.5 million that would be needed to bolster staffing levels would allow the county to keep pace in assessing Nassau's 423,000 taxable properties.

Haber's plan also calls for reassessing residential property every three years to account for market changes, and placement of a moratorium on tax refund challenges during the second year of the cycle.

Before this year, the county assessed residential properties annually, but has adopted a state plan for a four-year cycle.

State law allows property owners the right to challenge their assessments annually, but Haber spokesman Galen Alexander said Haber would lobby for a change in the law.

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