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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Gaming a broken system in Nassau

Robin S. Laveman, a commissioner and chair of

Robin S. Laveman, a commissioner and chair of the Nasasau County Assessment Review Commission is shown during a regular monthly meeting on July 27, 2015, in Mineola. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

During the administration of former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, voters approved a referendum to change from an elected to an appointed property assessor.

With that, the county’s top elected official — the executive — became responsible for the care and feeding of an assessment system that's now is in tatters.

The system isn't fair. And it's not accurate.

But instead of fixing the mess, a generation, now, of elected county, town and other officials have encouraged residents to jump on the assessment appeal bandwagon.

And, oh, what a bandwagon that’s been — with a win for almost every residential challenge.

Now comes a Newsday story by reporter Celeste Hadrick about the head of the Nassau agency that decides property tax assessment challenges having won at least five reductions in value for her Oyster Bay Cove home over the past five years.

Those successful appeals cut her assessment about 24 percent — which translated into savings of thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Elected and appointed officials are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

But this is Nassau County.

To be fair, Assessment Review Commission chairwoman Robin Laveman, a former deputy Nassau County attorney — who also has an appeal for a reduction pending for the upcoming tax roll — has been doing what a significant number of fellow Nassau residential homeowners have been doing for years now.

Everyone’s gaming a system ripe for the gaming.

But what makes Laveman different — and yes, this stands even though Nassau brings in outside counsel to handle appeals for county assessment system-related employees — is that she’s supposedly an expert in that system.

And experts — which also would include county lawmakers, many of whom also have filed successful appeals on their own properties, and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who has not appealed in years — also would know that reductions in their assessments would lead to increases for neighbors who did not appeal.

But let’s consider, for a second, Nassau homeowners who did appeal or the comparatively rare homeowner who appealed, and lost.

Why would they have to appeal in the first place?

Wasn’t the county — and, specifically, the county executive’s office — responsible for ensuring that assessments were correct in the first place?
Why should they end up with the short end of the stick, with overassessed properties? The situation gives unfair advantage to those who appealed and won?

But there’s more.

Under reforms introduced by Curran — and supported by the Republican-majority legislature — the county will reassess all properties to full market values. But there’s a hitch — the state’s “6/20” law, that limits assessment increases to 6 percent a year, or a total of 20 percent over five years.

With that, it will take decades for underassessed properties such as Laveman’s to reach market value.

And on the flip side, it also will take decades for homeowners — most of whom are in black and Hispanic neighborhoods — who never or rarely grieved their assessments to be relieved of their unfair tax burden.

Surely, Nassau’s assessment system experts — and longtime elected and appointed policy makers who successfully grieved their assessments in recent years — know that.

And as for avoiding even the appearance of impropriety?

Oh, yeah, it’s Nassau.


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