As of Thursday, residential property tax appeals in Nassau will no longer be heard in court, as the county moves toward privatizing the process, county officials said.
Details were sketchy Wednesday, but Nassau officials said all residential petitions were withdrawn from the court calendar as part of a reorganization of the county's assessment department.
County Executive Edward Mangano "has formulated a new settlement program for [residential assessment] cases so that the future assessment rolls can be corrected" before the tax roll becomes final April 1 - "thus protecting taxpayers from future liability," said aide Brian Nevin.
Traditionally, residential tax protests are first considered by the county's Assessment Review Commission, which can reduce assessments before tax bills are generated. If the commission denies the protest, the homeowner - usually represented by a private tax attorney - can appeal the case through small claims court. By then, the homeowner usually has paid the higher tax bill and is due a refund if the court reduces the assessment.
Nassau has been paying more than $100 million in refunds annually and has been borrowing to cover most of it.
Nevin said the new settlement program, which he said could save millions of dollars a year, would be administered by the county attorney's office according to "a court-ordered stipulation that was negotiated by the administration and the residential property tax bar." Details were unavailable Wednesday, and several private residential tax attorneys could not be reached.
Private appraiser Matt Smith, whose company, Standard Valuation Services, already is under contract with the county, will assist the county attorney "as the expert in valuations," Nevin said.
The deal raised fears of layoffs among some 30 unionized county employees who now handle the work.
"When I walked out of my office today, I had 20 people from assessment waiting for me," said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, Local 830. He said he first learned about the change Wednesday and met briefly with Mangano about it.
"Under no circumstances will I allow any of my members to be laid off or lose their jobs to a private contractor," Laricchiuta said.
Asked about the possibility of layoffs, Nevin said, "Currently, we are reviewing job duties and reassignments to improve the departments and achieve efficiencies. This is an ongoing process."