Nassau lawmakers back overhaul of tax grievance system

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Nassau County legislators voted to request state approval to overhaul the commercial property tax reimbursement system while also approving more than $600,000 for the Village of Hempstead to improve its historic attractions as they passed a series of last-minute "emergency" measures Monday.

The 19-member legislature voted for a "home-rule" message asking state lawmakers to approve a new system for paying commercial property tax refunds, which have long saddled Nassau with debt.

The request came as state lawmakers headed into the final week of the legislative session, with adjournment expected June 19.

Under a proposal submitted by County Executive Edward Mangano, Nassau would create an escrow-type account to hold up to 10 percent of a commercial property's assessed value while owners went through the grievance process.

Nassau officials say the system would end the county's practice of borrowing to pay for tax refunds."We all know the assessment system in Nassau County is in need of change -- this is a step in the right direction," Deputy County Executive Rob Walker told county legislators.

Loraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, criticized county leaders for not including school boards in preliminary discussions about the plan.

"While deals are being made in this chamber and with Albany, Nassau's boards of education have been kept in the dark as to the potential ramifications," Deller said.

The tax-grievance proposal got a push late in the state legislative session when Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) on Friday filed a bill on Nassau's behalf requesting state approval of the changes.

Among emergency measures approved by Nassau lawmakers was a proposal to give the Village of Hempstead $624,800 in county hotel tax revenue. Walker said the money would be used for "historical programs."

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Asked later why the measure came up as an emergency bill, Walker said the county had been working on the grant for 45 days and believed it was worth expediting.

County legislators also expressed support for Hooper's measure to require projects receiving tax exemptions from the Nassau or Hempstead Industrial Development agencies to receive approval from the respective village boards and mayors.

Hooper said the measure would give village boards more say over the projects selected for tax exemption.Walker said county legislators supported the same measure last year with a home-rule message, but Hooper's bill failed pass the state Legislature.

Nassau legislators Monday voted for four different versions of Nassau's of the commercial property tax proposal. Walker said the separate versions were voted on in the interest of time as the state Senate and Assembly negotiate differences over the issue. For example, one measure passed ysterday calls for up to 10 percent of a property's value to be held in escrow, while another calls for up to 9 percent to be set aside.

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