Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Wednesday that, for the first time in recent memory, the county has reviewed and settled all residential property assessment challenges filed in a single year.
By resolving last year's assessment protests before school tax bills are issued in October, Mangano said, the county will cut its high cost of refunding overpaid property taxes. School taxes account for the largest share of property taxes.
On average, Nassau has paid about $100 million in property tax refunds annually for more than a decade; about $20 million each year has gone to homeowners who successfully challenge their assessments in small claims court, with the rest awarded to commercial property owners.
Mangano said at a news conference in Mineola that the county reviewed 116,000 residential protests filed by between Jan. 2 and March 1, 2011 -- representing about one-third of all homeowners in Nassau. About 70 to 80 percent of the assessments challenged were reduced while the rest were unchanged, officials said. That means about 90,000 homeowners who filed tax protests last year will see lower assessments when school tax bills go out in October, they said.
However, if assessments are reduced, tax rates must go up to bring in the same amount of revenue to schools, towns, special districts and the county -- though Mangano has pledged that he will not increase county property taxes. The assessment reductions also mean that homeowners who didn't challenge their values last year will likely see their taxes increase to offset their neighbors' assessment reductions.
Mangano appeared Wednesday with Darlene Harris, head of the county's Assessment Review Commission, Acting Assessor Jim Davis, several residential tax attorneys and a member of Mangano's residential tax reform team.
Mangano said the protests were handled in-house this year, unlike last year when an outside appraisal firm was used.
Last year, Mangano contended his settlement program had eliminated all but $2 million in residential refund liability. However, his administration in December asked the county legislature to borrow $20 million to pay more than 17,000 residential refunds that had been decided by small claims court in 2011. Democrats refused to approve the borrowing.
"If he says he's reduced liability, then why were there $20 million in residential refunds that he wanted to borrow for?" asked Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick). "I'm glad we didn't borrow for it because apparently it doesn't exist."
Mangano aide Brian Nevin said last year's cases date from before Mangano began his settlement program.
Challenging an assessment
A homeowner may file an assessment challenge between Jan. 2 and March 1. The county Assessment Review Commission has until April 1 of the following year to decide the appeal.
If ARC denies the protest, or if the homeowner wants a larger reduction than approved, the homeowner may file a court petition. Since court decisions usually come after tax bills go out, Nassau must pay a refund if the assessment is reduced.
Mangano says the county has reviewed and settled all 116,000 residential protests filed in 2011. He says that should eliminate most, if not all, residential refunds because the assessments were reduced before school tax bills -- the first batch of bills to be affected -- go out this October.