“Assessment, it’s not so incomprehensible anymore.”
Perhaps that should be Nassau’s new motto, given that a record number of residents, fired up by Newsday’s investigation into inequities in the system, appealed their assessments.
And many did it on their own, rather than going through third-party businesses who make money by taking a cut of residents’ successful appeals.
This is groundbreaking.
Because Nassau residents now have the county’s broken assessment system figured out.
Appeal — that is, assert that Nassau’s system, which is supposed to be accurate and fair, is wrong — and you win.
Trust in Nassau, however, and you lose — by being tagged to cover the cost of other residents’ property tax savings.
What is assessment?
The easiest thing is to envision a pie. And let’s say that pie is the amount in taxes to be collected by a school district. Assessment determines how large a slice — and by extension, how much in property taxes — lands on a property owner’s plate.
The slice shrinks for those who win assessment appeals — and in Nassau, since 2010 when County Executive Edward Mangano overhauled the process, most appeals have been successful.
But the slice — and by extension, the property tax bill — grows for those who do nothing.
Newsday’s investigation showed that Mangano’s overhaul, over seven years, shifted $1.7 billion in taxes from those who successfully appealed to those who did not.
That’s a monster slice.
Which is why thousands of residents — one in five of those who appealed — appealed their assessments for the first time since 2010.
That was a record. So too was the number of appeals by disabled residents, low and middle-income senior citizens and residents of mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
And the record-breaking didn’t end there either: More than a third of those who filed challenges for the first time did so sans help from Nassau’s cottage industry of tax appeal firms — which charge fees that often add up to half a property owner’s first year tax savings.
Still, the newfound zest for appeals could be a double-edged sword. That’s because the number of appeals will continue to grow, even after the county’s planned 2018 reassessment resets the value of all county properties.
Distrust of a broken assessment system fueled appeals.
Which means Nassau needs to hire a qualified assessor, staff up the assessment office and — most of all — find a way to pay off Nassau’s multimillion-dollar refund backlog, while mitigating the cost of successful appeals in the future.
This year’s number of record-breaking appeals show that residents have figured out the system. When, however, will Nassau’s elected officials figure out the fix?