Report slams Nassau's assessment system

A long-awaited report by County Executive Edward Mangano's Assessment Reform Team condemns Nassau's commercial assessment process as dysfunctional and makes a series of recommendations to repair the "severely damaged system" that is costing the county $100 million annually in property tax refunds.

Members of the volunteer assessment team were expected to deliver their recommendations for reforming the way Nassau values commercial and residential properties to Mangano by today.

A draft of the report dealing with commercial assessments - which account for more than 80 percent of the refunds each year - was obtained by Newsday. It backs Mangano's plan for reassessing every four years rather than annually, and calls for resolving protests in nine months rather than 15. And it recommends the county assessor accept court-ordered value reductions. In the past, the assessor would often reinstate the same value that triggered the original protest or hike it even higher.

"The departments involved in the assessment system are dysfunctional," said ART co-chairman Mark Hamer, a Jericho real estate executive. "The departments will have to be rebuilt and reorganized. The county will have to commit itself to putting in the best practices."

A Mangano spokesman said he could not comment until he had reviewed the report.

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said the report confirms that the Assessment Department "makes too many mistakes and that the Assessment Review Commission, which considers protests, must be required to substantively review challenges before the roll is finalized to save the county tens of millions of dollars in refunds."

If the commission reduces incorrect assessments before tax bills are generated, no refunds are due. The excessive amount of tax refunds led to the county's near bankruptcy in 1999 and is threatening Nassau with insolvency today.

Mangano appointed ART on Jan. 7 with instructions to report back June 30. Hamer said the report was delayed because "the system was more flawed than we expected."

ART member Laureen Harris said, "Most of the neglect and errors were clearly among the commercial assessments." Member Donald Leistman noted that assessment employees had so few computer skills that "they didn't know how to override an assessment to put corrections in."

Harris and Leistman are commercial tax protest attorneys who profit from the county's mistakes. But they said they want to see the system fixed.

"There is way too much error," Harris said. "We are taxpayers too." Said Leistman, "Nobody benefits by the county going bankrupt."

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Assessment Reform Team recommendations also include:

Changing to full-value assessments, rather than assessing at a fraction of the property’s market value, to improve poperty owner’s understanding of their assessment

Create an “oversee board” to help coordinate the county departments that deal with assessments: Department of Assessment; Assessment Review Commission; county attorney’s office; and information-technology office

Overhaul information technology systems to allow all county assessment offices to share data

All protests rejected by ARC should be reported to the county attorney’s office for review before the case continues to court

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