Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to turn over the property tax assessment system to the county's towns and cities may lead to fairer evaluations for home and business owners but could also burden municipalities with millions of dollars in added costs, local officials said Wednesday.
Mangano said Tuesday he was "110 percent" behind turning over the job of assessing residential and commercial properties to towns and cities. The proposal would relieve Nassau of responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax refunds that have driven up the county's debt. Mangano said he planned to gather town and city representatives to discuss whether the move would work.
Leaders of the county's three towns declined to endorse Mangano's plan, which would need the municipalities' approval. State legislation and a home rule message by the GOP-controlled county legislature also would be needed.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said the cost of "implementing new assessment systems at the town and city levels and a host of other issues present serious questions that must be addressed in ensuring fair property tax assessments."
John Riordan, interim supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, said Tuesday he was "open to any discussion" on fixing the assessment system but declined to elaborate Wednesday.
Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said "it is virtually impossible" to discuss a town-based assessment system until the State Court of Appeals rules on Mangano's 2010 proposal to pass the costs of tax refunds onto towns, villages. Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi noted that the city already does its own assessments "and I think because of that our rolls are more accurate. I think it's better to be in charge of your own destiny."
Long Beach City Council president Scott Mandel said that while the city "is open to having a discussion with the county on this issue, we are not open to taking on any burden from the county as a result."
Nassau is unusual in New York for having a countywide assessment program. Glen Cove school and city taxes are set by the city and the county assessment is used for county taxes only. The City of Long Beach sets its own assessments for city tax purposes but school and county taxes are based on the county assessment.
State lawmakers from both parties said Mangano's idea had potential.
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said giving local governments control of assessments could lead to a more consistent evaluation process for homeowners. "I'm certainly going to look at this with on open mind," Lavine said. "This may very well prove to be a constructive consideration."
Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, said the idea has merit but specific legislation would have to be reviewed. "I come from a village perspective and being able to set assessments at the local level . . . tends to work better," said Martins, a former mayor of Mineola.
Martins said devising a method for handling assessment challenges would be essential and that any change shouldn't shift the tax burden more to school districts.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) plans to review the proposal and "looks forward to hearing input from town and city officials," said his spokeswoman Kelly Cummings.
Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro said Mangano's proposal would make it easier to keep the tax rolls updated.
"Each town would be managing a much smaller number of properties," said Cavallaro, second vice president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association. "It would be much more locally controlled and therefore, there would probably be a better knowledge base. And your assessments would be more defensible and accurate."
Assesment industry experts speculated that refunds costs, along with potentially millions more to hire appraisers, assessors and administrative personnel, could land at the feet of cash-strapped towns whose ability to raise revenue is limited by a 2 percent property tax cap.
Donald Leistman, a Mineola-based attorney who represents commercial property owners in tax challenges, said he "would not hold my breath to see this happen. They would need cooperation from the towns, who I don't think are anxious to take over refunds."
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) said Mangano was attempting to "dump" the county's assessment problem onto local governments.
"First, Mr. Mangano told us he had a plan to fix the system, then he broke it and now he keeps trying to pawn off his mistakes on the towns, schools and fire districts," Denenberg said.
Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Mangano's plan will be difficult to implement unless the county provides the towns with temporary financial support to pay for staffing and outstanding tax refunds.
Fred Perry, a Dix Hills attorney who handles residential tax refund cases, cautioned that pushing the assessment system onto towns is "not a cure-all. You stillneed programs and policies that make it fairer for homeowners."
County spokesman Brian Nevin said Wednesday that Mangano's assessment team will "prepare a plan and agenda that will likely be released by early next year."
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment.
With Yancey Roy, Patrick Whittle, Scott Eidler, Bill Bleyer and Jennifer Barrios