Although Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has promised to fix the county's "broken" assessment system, town officials say the first school tax roll sent out by his 10-month-old administration was so riddled with errors that some bills were delayed and the county itself was socked with an erroneous $1.3-million school tax bill.
County taxpayers will pick up the tab to fix the problem for the Garden City school district.
Nassau Assessor Ted Jankowski recently acknowledged "challenges" this year in converting assessments to a new computer system, but he denied widespread errors cited by tax receivers in the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay.
The receivers, both Republicans, say the county assessment roll sent to them for generating the Oct. 1 school tax bills didn't add up. For example, Oyster Bay Tax Receiver James Stefanich said the numbers from each school district and property classification didn't add up to the total tax warrant.
"The mathematics were not done properly on the county's end," Stefanich said.
"It didn't balance out," agreed Hempstead Tax Receiver Donald Clavin. Both said the mistakes were corrected.
In addition, tax exemptions were placed on some properties and removed from others - including a prominent building owned by the county itself. Nassau's historic county courthouse, where Mangano, a Republican, and county lawmakers have their offices, was erroneously included on the roll at a value of $56 million.
County properties are tax-exempt, so the error generated a tax bill of $1,277,502 for the Garden City school district - which would have punched a staggering hole in the district's budget. "I'm in shock," said Garden City School Superintendent Robert Feirsen. Clavin and Feirsen said Nassau must pay because of the county's longtime guarantee to shoulder the cost of erroneous assessments. And late Thursday, county officials agreed.
In a letter to Jankowski on Wednesday, Clavin complained, "At a time when a spotlight is shining on the question of whether or not county assessments are accurate . . . I would urge that greater care be taken to assure that property owned by the county and used for government purposes be kept from appearing on the tax rolls."
Relates to key proposal
The error comes to light a week before the county legislature is to vote on a Mangano proposal to end in two years the refunds guarantee that dates to 1938. Mangano contends he will fix inaccurate assessments before the guarantee expires.
"This is certainly another argument why we would not support an attempt to change it," said Feirsen, who joined hundreds of others, many of them school officials, this week to protest Mangano's plan. "We have no confidence that assessment is under control as they allege it is."
Although the assessment roll was certified in April, Mangano aide Brian Nevin and Jankowski blame the previous administration of Democrat Thomas Suozzi for the courthouse error. Jankowski, appointed by Suozzi in January 2009, said the tax exemption was dropped in 2008 when the current roll was prepared and there was no reason the mistake would have been caught after that.
"It appears that the prior administration, in conjunction with its $70-million improvement to the county building, failed to file the proper exemption, thereby obligating to the county to pay the 2010-2011 tax levy," Nevin said. "This is why County Executive Mangano has instituted reforms to begin turning around this broken property tax assessment system."
Responded Suozzi spokesman Bruce Nyman: "Enough already with blaming Suozzi for all their shortcomings. Next week they'll be blaming Suozzi for bedbugs on Long Island."
Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said, "How could they not take responsibility for what took place on their own watch?" He added that constituents' complaints about their bills leads him to suspect assessments still are not calculated properly, though the receivers say they fixed the mistakes.
Clavin said he brought in staff to work overtime and weekends to reconcile the numbers and mailed the tax bills during the first week in October, as usual. Stefanich said "verification and validation" of the roll delayed his sending the bills until Oct. 14.
In North Hempstead, Nassau's only Democratic-controlled town, tax receiver Charles Berman is a former Jankowski employee. A town spokesman said in a statement: "The town is aware that there are new systems being deployed in Nassau County and the transition to such resulted in some delays and some confusion. North Hempstead opted to utilize the old system in this tax cycle believing that we would avoid potential problems." Its bills went out Oct. 9.