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Let's put politics aside in Nassau reassessment debate

Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the Nassau Legislature's

Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the Nassau Legislature's presiding officer, called for going back to electing the county assessor. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

On Monday, Legis. Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park, a Republican and founding member of the Nassau Legislature, proposed taking the county back to an elected — rather than appointed — assessor.

In response — actually, in a canned statement to Newsday that was to be attributed to Nassau’s top elected official — County Executive Laura Curran said, “The Republican majority backed [former County Executive Edward] Mangano’s corrupt policies. They had an unqualified acting assessor for eight years and promoted a broken assessment system that cheated property owners. One half of our property owners were forced to subsidize the other half."

The statement-to-be-attributed-to-Curran continued:

"This is the latest in a long string of attempts by the Republican Legislature to distract from the truth. Assessment is a mess they created, and for eight years they did absolutely nothing to fix it. An elected Assessor is a backdoor attempt to repeat the mistakes of the past. They just want another unqualified assessor."

Really?

Nicolello, in an interview after a news conference during which Republican-majority lawmakers had fanned out, peacock like, behind him, said the appointed assessor system is not working.

It isn’t, and it hasn’t — through administrations Republican and Democrat alike.

To be sure, legislative Republicans — like Democrats — are seeking to use assessment as a club in November, when each and every lawmaker is up for re-election.

And Democrats have another reason to stand firm:

The ongoing reassessment issue, as easily could have been predicted, is making Curran politically unpopular.

But let’s — please, oh, please — try to brush such predictable politicking aside.

Back in the 1980s, after the county agreed to a consent agreement to settle a federal lawsuit, Nassau reassessed.

And residents went wild.

There was an elected assessor back then, Charles O’Shea, who did what he could to quell the public’s anger.

Part of that job was meeting with constituents.

And answering tough questions during legislative meetings.

Nicolello remembers, he said on Monday — after all, he was there.

So what’s changed?

The idea behind going to an appointed assessor is that the county executive would have control — which also means that the county executive takes the blame when things go wrong.

And with the current reassessment, plentiful things have gone wrong — just as they did when Nassau did the court-ordered reassessment.

Yet, Curran, who under this system IS the de facto elected assessor, keeps tossing her appointee, County Assessor David Moog, into the fray, rather than dealing with the ongoing fracas head-on.

Instead of clarifying mistakes, the administration’s playbook has been to deny and equivocate before finally acknowledging errors. That, alas, is the route that now is making residents question the transparency, the validity of the entire process.

And obfuscation — such as canned comments as insipid as those offered in Curran’s name on Monday — does not help.

Curran’s zeal to fix the assessment system — and, again, she is putting her political career on the line for this — is to be commended because the broken system must be fixed.

To that end, it might be helpful if Republicans and Democrats stopped slinging election-year mud long enough to consider long-term solutions — which very well could include an elected assessor.

Meanwhile, it’s not enough for Curran to remind property owners that she’s brave for ordering the reassessment. She also must do what’s necessary to reassure Nassau residents that the reassessment process, no matter how many mistakes — and there always will be mistakes — is both valid and fair.

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