Nassau tax refund case heads to top appeals court

New York's highest court has agreed to hear Nassau County's appeal of a ruling that rejected the county's attempt to shift the cost of property tax refunds onto school districts and towns.

The state Court of Appeals this week set up a schedule for arguments over a February decision by the appellate division that found Nassau's repeal of the "county guaranty" violates the state constitution and municipal home rule law.

The guaranty -- adopted by the State Legislature in 1948 and subsequently by the county -- made Nassau responsible for paying all property tax refunds resulting from erroneous tax assessments. The county has paid an average $100 million a year in refunds even though school districts and towns collected more than 80 percent of the overpaid taxes.


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Nassau is one of only two counties in the state in which the county, rather than the towns, sets property tax assessments.

Because of budget constraints, the county in 2010 repealed the guaranty, effective next year. More than 40 Nassau school districts and officials, the Town of North Hempstead, 19 special districts and some taxpayers challenged the repeal.

County Attorney John Ciampoli said, "We remain confident that we are right on the law and will prevail in the state's highest court."

Ronald J. Rosenberg, a Garden City attorney hired by Nassau to help with the appeal, said the appellate decision "erroneously determined that Nassau County didn't have the authority to repeal a state statute that applied only to Nassau County."

But attorney Steven Schlesinger, whose firm represents North Hempstead, said, "The county is desperate to have the school districts bear the burden of its errors. But they are wrong."

The appellate division decision, if it were to stand, could cost the county about $80 million a year.

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