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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau’s flawed property assessment system needs a real fix

Nassau homeowners this year filed the highest number of property tax challenges since the county started keeping such records.

Insert yawn here, please.

Because next year, the numbers likely will grow higher.

And higher still the year after that.

Such rises are predictable at this point, because the reliability and trustworthiness of Nassau’s assessment system — which is supposed to be used to fairly apportion taxes paid by property owners — started drifting into the ether a long time ago.

Whoosh! There goes Nassau’s residents’ belief that their assessments are correct, and that they are fair.

At this point, why wouldn’t anyone believe that?

For years, County Executive Edward Mangano has called the system broken. And so has almost every single elected official in Nassau — from county lawmakers to town assessors.

Elected officials, in fact, send out fliers advertising the system’s unreliability — by offering workshops to teach residents how to grieve their tax assessments.

Politically, the workaround works, and works well. Who can’t love a politician armed with what’s become almost a surefire way to lower your taxes in Nassau?

Keep in mind, however, that nobody in charge is actually fixing the system. Oh, no. Instead, the approach from Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to unrelated federal corruption charges, has been to put into place a settle-now, so-cash-poor-Nassau-doesn’t-have to-pay-so-much-later approach.

That’s an artful way of working to mitigate the hundreds of millions of dollars Nassau has paid out over the decades in successful assessment appeal cases.

But it’s an awful mechanism for shoring up the integrity of the assessment process in Nassau — which was supposed to morph into a more equitable system as the result of a federal consent decree in the 2000s.

Good assessment systems work. Bad ones end up being gutted — pulled apart, piece by piece — by attempts at false fixes.

In Nassau, that fix is to grieve.

And most homeowners who grieve in Nassau win reductions in their assessments — and by extension, reductions in their portion of school, town, village and special property taxes.

How do so many win so much?

Are that many assessments in Nassau flawed?

For the sake — and only for the sake — of argument, let’s say the system at one time at least worked.

If so, wouldn’t the process of settling mass appeals — just for the sake of settling mass appeals, as opposed to making necessary adjustments on a case-by-case basis — skew the system’s reliability?

And with so many winners, certainly there must be losers, too. Yeah — every single property owner in Nassau who does not grieve their assessment. They’re the ones picking up the portion of the tab that an assessment reduction spared their neighbors.

At this point, alas, the assessment system in Nassau is a suckers’ game (for those who don’t grieve) — not a viable county function.

And like all games, at some point this one’s got to end.

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