For six weeks, a policy taskforce in County Executive Laura Curran’s administration has been trying to loosen some knots of Nassau’s tangled property assessment system.
And they think they may be onto a few comparatively quick ways of moving to make things right.
But first a word about quick. For more than two decades, assessment — and more specifically the hundreds of millions of dollars Nassau has been forced to pay back in successful appeals — has jammed up county finances.
Former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, tried to blunt the impact of appeals by freezing assessments so that corrections could be made before new tentative tax rolls were issued.
Then, in an attempt to minimize damage to county finances, Mangano went one step further by implementing a settlement program with tax-appeal firms, which take a cut of any refund property owners may receive.
A series of reports by Newsday’s Matt Clark — based on ambitious analyses from of assessment-related data — demonstrated that the program caused more problems for Nassau residents than it solved.
And it wasn’t just that neighbors in similar houses received different assessments. Residents who appealed typically got tax increases of about 5 percent over 7 years. Those who did not — including many seniors, and residents in minority neighborhoods — received 35 percent in increases.
The Curran administration’s most immediate plan of attack is a programming offensive. That is — and this is the simplest way to put it — they will use existing and recently gathered data to make assessments on comparable properties more equitable. The administration also wants changes to meet state standards.
The goal is to have the process — and to be clear, it would be a review and correction operation rather than a formal reassessment — completed before a new tentative tax roll is issued on Jan. 1, 2019.
The taskforce also is tackling policy issues including how to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in accumulated refund debt and how best to staff up Nassau’s assessment review operation.
Members also may want to consider whether Nassau should return to an elected, rather than appointed, assessor — and whether the county should continue to press Albany for permission to do assessments that equal full market value.
Should residents — as Mangano and every other county and town elected official suggest — still appeal their assessment?
Yes — and, in fact, the Curran administration has pushed the deadline back to April 2, recommending that residents file appeals themselves rather than relying on firms that specialize in appeals.
As for Mangano’s settlement program, will that continue, too?
That will be determined as the policy committee — which includes Curran’s chief deputy, two deputy county executives and representatives from majority legislative Republicans and Democrats — continues its review, Curran spokesman Michael Martino said Wednesday.