Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Nassau is seeking help from outside experts to scrutinize and recommend improvements to its flawed assessment system, according to County Executive Edward Mangano.
And, Mangano said in an interview Wednesday, he's considering whether to recommend that Nassau return to making an elected assessor -- rather than the county executive -- responsible for the system.
"We've put $60 million into a computer modeling system that's generated $2.3 billion in errors," Mangano said. "The dollars don't lie."
The county, in a request for proposals dated Oct. 5, is seeking a firm to review and analyze Nassau's Integrated Assessment System -- mass modeling software used to produce and maintain a system that is supposed to be fair and equitable.
For years, it appears to have been anything but fair or equitable. The county's crushing debt from repaying successful property tax appeals was a major factor in Nassau's voluntarily submitting to a state control board in 2000.
For a time, the county began paying much of the cost of new settlements from its operating rather than capital budget. That changed during the last years of former County Executive Thomas Suozzi's second term, when Nassau returned to borrowing.
Mangano's most recent attempt to borrow has been stymied by Democrats in the legislature, who are withholding needed votes unless they reach a deal on a more favorable redistricting process.
For most of Mangano's term, action on assessments has been centered away from problems with the mass assessment system itself. Among other measures, Mangano began a program to settle tens of thousands of successful residential assessment challenges.
Wednesday, Mangano said that firms representing owners of commercial properties -- which account for the lion's share of challenges -- are looking at his residential program.
"If they see progress, if they see property owners being paid," Mangano said, "there may be a chance to begin a commercial settlement program, too."
That could help the county -- and the lucrative property tax appeal trade -- financially.
But what's really needed is a shake-up in the system itself. There's something very wrong when the best defense -- in fact, at this point, the only defense -- against an unfair assessment is for property owners to take the initiative of filing an appeal.
"I never took the position that the system produced the correct values," Mangano said. "Residents ought to be checking their assessments the way you check your bank statement."
As for returning to an elected assessor, Mangano said he would wait for the analysis of the system before deciding whether to recommend a change in the county charter.
Voters in 2008 supported a referendum to swap an elected assessor for one that would be appointed by and report to the county executive.
One result is that voters -- who were never shy about taking out their frustration on assessors -- have the chance to channel anger over the system toward the county executive.
"After all these years of dealing with the system and even with the changes we've managed to make, I think you are better off with an elected assessor," Mangano said, adding that the responsibilities of the position are comparable to clerk or district attorney.
"It would not hurt to have a citizen at the helm," he said, "and it is something I am considering very seriously."
Proposals to analyze and review the assessment computer system are due next month. The county is slated to announce the winner by the end of the year.
The sooner the system is fixed, the better.