An exterior shot of Great Neck North High School. The...

An exterior shot of Great Neck North High School. The district faces a 9.6% tax hike. (Sept. 28, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Nassau school tax rates are up this year an average 6.8 percent -- more than twice as high as most homeowners expected when they approved their school budgets this spring, according to county records.

The rate increases for county homeowners range from a high of 9.6 percent in Great Neck to a low of 1.6 percent in Roosevelt. In comparison, Nassau school budgets this spring called for an average 2.9 percent increase in tax collections, according to the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association.

The hike in tax rates is nearly half the 11.7 percent average increase last year, when some homeowners were shocked to find their school tax rates had jumped as high as 29.9 percent. The tax rate shock was due in most part to reduced assessments from dropping home values and successful tax challenges.

School bills are calculated by multiplying a property's assessment by the district's tax rate. If assessed values drop, tax rates increase to bring in the same amount of money. That means if one homeowner gets an assessment reduction, his neighbors' taxes go up if their assessments stayed the same.

Over the past two years, Nassau homeowners have seen their school district tax rates jump an average 19.1 percent, records show, despite a state cap that limits tax levy increases to around 3 percent.

Tax bills have started to be mailed in the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead, while Oyster Bay expects to begin sending bills next week.

At County Executive Edward Mangano's direction, Nassau froze assessed values this year.

The exceptions, for the most part, were for those property owners who challenged their assessments and received reductions, or for those who built additions that increased their home's value.

County officials have said that 87 percent of property owners who challenged their assessments last year received reductions this year.

Acting Assessor James Davis said there are multiple reasons why rates change. "There are many different factors that contribute to a rate increase within a specific school district. Within a district, reduced state aid, successful challenges, demolitions and property tax exemptions are all contributing factors of an increased tax rate; not just successful protests," he said.

But Lorraine Deller, executive director of the school boards association, blamed the county. "School districts are only accountable for that 2.9 percent increase. Every maneuver that has brought about the average increase in tax rate of 6.8 percent is due to the county's assessment practices," she said.

Some districts also were affected by an assessor-requested shift in the overall tax burden to single-family homeowners from businesses, condominiums and utilities, she said.

Deller said the association is collecting data about assessed values and shifting tax burden from Nassau's 56 districts. So far, it has heard from 39 districts and every one of them report a lower tax base, reflecting reduced assessments, she said.

Davis responded: "School spending is out of control and that's why taxes are going up. Nassau County uses the same assessment roll that school districts use to calculate a property's tax share, yet, it's the school portion of the tax bill that increases."

Davis also noted that homeowners could have used a school tax estimator on the county website to get a preview of their bills when district budgets were adopted.

Hempstead Town Tax Receiver Donald Clavin, who last year received hundreds of phone calls from upset residents after they received their tax bills, said Wednesday, "People hate their school tax bills, but I don't know that we'll see the same level of anger this year."

The first half of the tax bill is due Nov. 12.

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