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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Brown: Hello?!? Party line static over phones in Nassau's assessment department

Signage for Veterans' Exemptions is pictured at the

Signage for Veterans' Exemptions is pictured at the Nassau County Department of Assessment in Mineola Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Credit: Barry Sloan

Placed a call at high noon Monday to Nassau’s assessment department.

The line answered on the second ring, with the recorded voice of a pleasant-sounding woman offering a host of options — each of which offered a detour from the task at hand: Which was trying to get someone with a pulse on the line.

Fingers crossed, prayers up!

“Oh, Operator,

Information,

Please connect me,

With the man.” 

 — "Operator," The Manhattan Transfer

Republican county lawmakers, as part of a raft of proposals, are seeking to mandate that County Executive Laura Curran have an assessment department with living, breathing county employees — rather than, you know, even the most personable of impersonal recordings — to answer resident calls about assessment.

The volume of such calls, Curran and the GOP majority on the legislature agree, has increased considerably since the administration launched its initiative to fix a broken assessment system by doing something everybody tends to hate — reassessing properties.

In Nassau, the assessment assigned by the county is then used to determine the portion of taxes property owners will pay. 

"When I call you,

 I get a click every time."

— "Mr. Telephone Man," New Edition

In Nassau, the assessment assigned to properties by the county is used, in turn, to determine the amount of taxes property owners will pay to schools, towns, villages and other taxing jurisdictions.

That makes criticizing reassessment — now and in the past — easy pickings, particularly in election years.

And in November, every seat in the legislature is up for grabs.

"You're so close,

but far away,

I call you up,

every night and day."

— "The Telephone Call," Kraftwerk

In this instance, however, the Curran administration made things even easier by including on the assessment website the following query:

 "Can I call the Department of Assessment with questions?"

Which was answered with the following:

"Personnel cuts in the prior administration left the Department unable to dedicate adequate staff to handle a high volume of phone calls … "

"Oh, you're breaking up on me,

Sorry, I cannot hear you,

I'm k-kinda busy."

— "Telephone," Lady Gaga, featuring Beyoncé

The website asked residents, instead, to email the assessment department, even as the Curran administration said it was working to add personnel to the department, which, in fact, had experienced major cuts during the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano.

Still, in response to the Curran administration's recommendation that residents email, rather than call the assessment department, GOP lawmakers pounced, proposing six measures as an "Assessment Bill of Rights" — which are slated to come up for a vote Monday.

"Waiting for your call,

every night and day,

Fed up,

I'm tired of waiting on you."

— "Hung Up," Madonna

"We've gotten a lot of complaints," Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the legislature's presiding officer, said in an interview.

And not just about phone calls.

The administration, in response, calls — see what I did there?!? — the GOP's proposed raft of legislation a political ploy, and an attempt to micromanage how a Democratic administration runs the assessment department.

"I tried to telephone,

They said you were not home."

— "No Reply," The Beatles

On the face of it, the tempest over telephony could seem trivial.

But, as surprising as it may seem, not everyone has access to a home computer.

According to the Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey, 16.4 percent of residents 65 and over in Nassau do not have a computer in their households; in Suffolk, it's almost 16 percent.

That leaves the phone, landline or cell.

"Just seven numbers

Can straighten out my life."

— "Just Seven Numbers," The Four Tops

In a budget proposed last week, Curran is seeking to bolster the numbers in the assessment department, and in the Assessment Review Commission, which handles appeals. As part of the plan, the administration wants to provide employment opportunities for veterans in "available customer service positions," according to the budget summary.

That, presumably, could include phones in the assessment department — where there's got to be some better way to serve residents, even when call volumes are high.

Now, about that call to the department last Monday.

Did somebody — some living, breathing somebody — pick up?

Why, as a matter of fact, yes, a very polite employee did.

The same thing happened last Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon too.

"Just call me on the phone, I'll be there

I'll never leave you alone, I'll be there."

— "I'll Be Around," The Spinners

An employee picked up on Thursday.

And, on Friday, too.

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