TODAY'S PAPER

Curran weighs breaking promise on tax assessments

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced Wednesday the elimination of a vendor registration fee and the launch of a website allowing businesses to view and submit paperwork electronically. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Five months after laying out a tax reassessment plan that was to be one of her signature achievements, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is considering tearing it up and proposing a new plan that could lower taxes for thousands of homeowners.

The plan would lower the rate at which homes are assessed from .25 percent of what they're actually worth to a lower figure to be determined after...

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Five months after laying out a tax reassessment plan that was to be one of her signature achievements, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is considering tearing it up and proposing a new plan that could lower taxes for thousands of homeowners.

The plan would lower the rate at which homes are assessed from .25 percent of what they're actually worth to a lower figure to be determined after Curran receives a report from an expert hired to analyze various options. The report is expected this week, she said.

That could help the more than 80,000 homeowners who have not challenged their assessments since 2010, when former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano overhauled the tax system. The overhaul resulted in those who challenged overwhelmingly winning reductions that shifted the tax burden onto those who did not.

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The tax shift had grown to an estimated $2.2 billion by the overhaul's seventh year, Newsday found. Those who have challenged saved an estimated $448 million last tax year alone, an amount that will grow without a reassessment aimed at addressing the tax disparities.

Curran's proposal is a shift from the one she announced early this year, which called for keeping the ratio the same. The plan was intended to phase in tax bill increases to avoid massive swings in tax bills. It depended, though, on a legal strategy that would have prevented property owners from winning assessment challenges and making the system's disparities worse.

But Curran said last week that multiple factors, including an analysis of more recent data and a provision of a 2011 court settlement the county reached to resolve challenges, which was renewed for an additional six years in 2016, make it likely the county would have to continue settling challenges en masse. As a result, she said little would change and the $6.8 million cost of the reassessment, which officials refer to as a systematic review, would essentially be for nothing.

"We need to restore accuracy and integrity to the assessment roll. But now, we have received preliminary data from the systematic review that raises significant questions about our ability to meet that goal," Curran said in a statement. She said she does not want to "end up where we started, back at the Assessment Review Commission with mass settlements degrading the market values on the new roll."

Any shift in the plan's direction, though, runs the risk of alienating the Republican majority of the county legislature, which had agreed to finance the reassessment only if the ratio remained the same.

Curran signed an executive order establishing that the ratio would remain the same in order to win legislative support. She now wants to revise that executive order, which she can do without legislative approval.

At the time the plan was approved, Newsday reported that multiple experts, including one of the county's reassessment contractors, said it would do little to address the system's disparities and might actually make them worse over time. They pointed out that a state law limits assessment increases to no more than 6 percent per year, an amount so small that the market value of some homes would rise faster than their assessments would be allowed to.

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But administration officials defended the plan as a way to at least prevent the rapid deterioration of the assessment roll, which has occurred since the overhaul began.

They were going to "stop the bleeding," as one administration official put it, by preventing anyone from winning challenges and making the disparities worse.

Since 2011, assessments have been frozen and hundreds of thousands of reductions have been awarded even as property values have gone up. As a result — even though the county's ratio has been frozen at .25 percent during that period of time — the average county home is now assessed much less than .25 percent of its actual worth.

According to the county's most recent analysis, the actual ratio is closer to .15 percent, the figure at which homeowners who filed assessment challenges last year were assessed.

Despite this, administration officials said they could enforce a ratio of .25 percent in assessment challenges after the reassessment, which would prevent almost all homeowners from winning a reduction. This is because the same state law that limits assessment increases, the officials said, would have excluded properties assessed below .25 percent from calculations used to determine ratios in assessment challenges, including those appealed in court.

Doubts about the plan, though, began to emerge after challenges were filed this year. A county analysis showed 99 percent of homes would be assessed below .25 percent after the reassessment, potentially leaving too few to defend such a high ratio.

"Even without the stipulation of settlement," Curran said, there won't be enough homes assessed at a high enough level "to support a .25 percent level of assessment."

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"That," Curran said, "essentially gives Nassau County the same assessment roll we have had for the past 7 years."