Mangano makes assessment reform immediate priority

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The man County Executive Edward Mangano plans to put in charge of fixing Nassau's troubled tax assessment system said Wednesday that immediate reform was needed because the county faced "an assessment apocalypse."

"Nassau County taxpayers are saddled with a $250-million annual burden because of the current system," Patrick Foye said in an interview. "It is an assessment apocalypse. It is a [tax] certiorari catastrophe," he said.

He was referring to the $150-million annual cost of financing past refunds and $100 million incurred in refunds every year as homeowners continue to successfully challenge their assessments.

Mangano will formally name Foye today to head an Assessment Reform Team that will study the assessment system and recommend how long to freeze assessments until the current levels can be fixed.

Foye declined to discuss most details yesterday pending today's news conference, but he said Mangano has directed that county lawyers modify their approach to settling commercial tax challenges.

The lawyers will insist on a 3 percent interest rate on commercial refunds, not the 4 percent now paid when cases are settled without going to court, Foye said. He said the county did not anticipate the change would stop owners from settling their tax challenges.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said, adding that the lower interest rate would save the county about $1 million annually.

Foye, 52, a Port Washington resident, had been downstate head of economic development during the brief tenure of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and has been with the Uniondale law firm Rivkin, Radler, where Mangano worked until he took office last week.

Mangano made fixing the assessment a top priority in his campaign last fall, promising to freeze assessments while he fixed the system, although many assessment professionals argue that long gaps between assessments can worsen inequities.

He said after his inaugural that he was keeping an open mind about how long an assessment freeze should last, but said it could be for as long as four years.

"The idea and the plan and the goal is to simply use the corrected tax roll so our taxpayers get the benefit of an error-free system," Mangano said.

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