Majority Republicans in the Nassau County Legislature, citing an "error-riddled" reassessment, have filed legislation proposing election of a countywide assessor in the fall of 2021 — a matter that could be up for a public referendum this November.
The bill proposed by majority Republicans would require the county assessor to be an elected official, subject to a four-year term. If the bill is ultimately approved, a public referendum would be held Nov. 5.
The current assessor, David Moog, began serving last June after a lengthy career in New York City. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran appointed him to the job, and the legislature approved his hire.
But the bill's political future is unclear. While majority Republicans in the legislature support the bill, Curran would have to sign off on any legislation. A county spokeswoman said Monday that Curran would veto the bill if it passed. A supermajority of 13 legislators would have to override the veto. Republicans hold an 11-8 majority in the legislature.
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) introduced the bill during a news conference in Mineola, flanked by the caucus' 10 other lawmakers and Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Donald X. Clavin Jr., the Republican nominee for town supervisor. "This position must be an elected official, answerable to the people of Nassau County," Nicolello said.
“This reassessment process has shown that the current situation is unacceptable, that bureaucracy is deeply flawed," Nicolello said. "There has been error upon error, and mistake upon mistake."
The reassessment process has been marked by some stumbles. For example, last November, the county said it would have to correct 20,000 tax disclosure notices because they included assessments that increased by more than the 6 percent allowed by state law. Then on Nov. 30, the county said it had corrected 60,000 tax-impact notices on its website because preliminary, rather than final, values were used when estimating reassessments' effects on property tax bills.
A countywide referendum in 2008, held when Democrat Thomas Suozzi was county executive, changed the assessor post from an elected to an appointed position. Harvey Levinson was the county's last elected assessor. Republicans objected at the time, arguing a "bureaucrat" could not be responsive to the public.
Curran said in a statement, "The Republican majority backed [former Nassau 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 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."
Nicolello cited as a concern a report last week from the county legislature’s budget review office highlighting 80 funded vacancies in the assessment department.
He said that "the assessor answers to only one person — the county executive."
"An elected assessor would have to answer to all the people of the county … would be charged with their own budget," Nicolello said. "An elected assessor would fill those positions immediately."
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said through a spokesman that his caucus was opposed to the bill. “Based on their conduct throughout this process, it is disappointing — but not surprising — that the majority would seek to inject more politics and bureaucracy into a process and department that deserves only competence and professionalism,” Abrahams said in a statement.