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Ex-Nassau assessor says lower assessments won't stop challenges

Lower assessments for Nassau County homeowners will not necessarily lead to a drop in challenges, the county's former assessor said Tuesday.

"The attorneys and firms that challenge the assessments will argue that they should have gone down 20 or 30 percent," Harvey Levinson, who retired last year, said in interview from his Florida home. "Assessments are going down everywhere. Here in Palm Beach County, values are down 40 percent."

The current and former officials commented after Newsday reported on Sunday that Nassau Assessor Ted Jankowski had significantly lowered property valuations, by as much as 11 percent for homeowners and an average 22 percent for businesses.

The Town of Hempstead receiver of taxes, Donald X. Clavin, Jr., said the reductions appear to be across-the-board, and do not correct inequities among individual homes.

"He's just watered down everybody's values and when they get their tax bill, it will be, 'Oh Wow! My taxes went up!' because the rate went up," Clavin said."

The tax roll Levinson said he certified a year ago also lowered assessments, but not as dramatically as the roll released last week. "What Jankowski did is nothing. It's just that real estate values declined dramatically during the intervening year," Levinson said.

A leading Democratic official in county government, Legis. Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, issued a statement expressing concern, saying, "It is my sincere hope that the assessor's office, after a year of reviewing the issue, will very soon be proposing sound solutions that will work to alleviate taxpayers' fears and anger."

County Executive Edward Mangano, who promised during the campaign to fix the assessment system, was scheduled to hold a news conference on the issue Thursday, officials said.

After his inauguration on New Year's Day, Mangano told reporters that his plan was to "move the real property tax assessment system from an annual assessment to a cyclic assessment."

He said he would appoint a "team" to study how long the cycle should be, freezing the assessment for two years, or even four years.

The Republican presiding officer of the legislature, Peter Schmitt of Massapequa, said he had no confidence in Jankowski to draw up an accurate assessment roll, and he called for a freeze in assessments.

"Assessments are like a car -- you can't tinker with the engine when it's going 60 mph," Schmitt said.

However, most assessment professionals think that freezing assessments can worsen tax inequities, not ease them.

When Republicans proposed a similar freeze in 2007, the state's top assessment official, Lee Kyriacou, executive director of the state Office of Real Property Services, said it would be "highly imprudent if not illegal."

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