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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau reassessment a chance to hit the reset button

Aerial view of homes in Levittown on April

Aerial view of homes in Levittown on April 18, 2015. Credit: Flying Dog Photos / Kevin Coughlin

Nassau's move to reassess commercial and residential properties essentially will hit a reset button for county property owners.

But why stop there?

The reassessment will provide County Executive Edward Mangano an opportunity leave behind a powerful legacy.

How about an end to accumulation of the already huge debt due to successful property tax challenges? Or better, how about establishing some trust between property owners and Nassau -- with a system that generates accurate assessments?

In Nassau, every time a property owner wins a lower assessment, neighbors have to pay more in property taxes to make up the difference.

Which is why the number of grievances keeps growing, and why Mangano put into place a system that allowed grievances to be settled en masse as a way to lessen the county's liability for refunds.

The settlement program has helped Nassau financially, because the county now is liable for fewer and smaller refunds. But trust in the system -- that is, residents' belief that their assessments are accurate and fair -- is in the cellar.

Which is where reassessment -- and the reset button -- can make a big difference, but only if Mangano reaches well beyond updating assessments. A few suggestions:

Bring in an "assessment czar," one person to become the face of the process, to lead the change in a transparent manner. Sorry, but an acting appointed assessor -- which Nassau has had for years now -- doesn't have enough clout, visibility or public trust for the role.

The fact is that many assessments likely will change -- some rising, and some going lower -- under the update. It is essential that property owners understand what is going on, and why.

Follow through on a suggestion made by an advisory panel in 2010 by adding some measure of community oversight to the process. During the last reassessment, for example, waterfront properties were not handled well, as Mangano himself acknowledged Wednesday.

"We had experts seeing a house near water and assigning a waterfront value, but they didn't realize that what looked like a lake was a sump," Mangano said in an interview.

Beef up the county assessment office so that residents rely again on the county to make sure assessments are correct.

Consider a county referendum to return the assessor's position to an elected, rather than appointed, job.

Consider going to full-value reassessment, which would make it far simpler for property owners to make the connection between value and assessment.

And finally, hire a pro to do the job -- which means an expert with no county political ties. With one Nassau contract already at the center of a federal corruption probe, transparency on this one will be key to rebuilding trust in the assessment system.

Mangano said he agreed with many of the above suggestions, particularly getting local input on the assessment update.

"Nobody knows about properties and their value better than the community," he said.

Which is why Mangano also said he hasn't given up hope that -- sometime down the line -- Nassau's towns will take on the assessment job.

"Nobody's jumping to do this now," he said. "But if you remove the burden of the system, the liability, it might become possible."


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