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Nassau lawmakers move to reinstate senior tax abatement

"This is going to affect a lot of

"This is going to affect a lot of people, and they never said anything," Irwin Scharf of Massapequa said about Nassau County's property tax abatement expiration, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

State and local lawmakers from Nassau County are moving to bring back a popular property tax abatement for seniors that had expired without any notice to its tens of thousands of recipients.

The county legislature’s Republican majority on Tuesday introduced a bill formally requesting that the State Legislature — which must authorize all local tax abatements — extend the benefit. The resolution, known as a “home rule message,” came as both the State Senate and Assembly were drafting the necessary legislation on their end.

The flurry of bills came after Newsday this week detailed that many seniors were surprised to see their most-recent tax bills missing the popular abatement, which was established in 2002 to offset a 19.3 percent county property tax hike passed that year.

The original state and county legislation creating the senior abatement always called for its expiration last year, but county officials provided no advance notice, leaving many seniors to call their local and state representatives for an explanation after seeing their tax bills increase by roughly $200.

“The really amazing thing is that it actually resulted in something,” said Irwin Scharf, 81, of Massapequa, who was one of the residents who complained to his local representatives when he noticed the abatement missing from his newest tax bill.

County officials estimated that the abatement saved eligible seniors (those older than 65 and earning less than $86,000 a year) 5.5 percent on their annual general property tax bill — a portion of their overall bill.

A Newsday review shows that 43,861 properties had the abatement in 2015-16, and that the average abatement was $166 over the last five tax years, removing between $6.8 million and $7.7 million annually from the tax rolls.

When first contacted about the expired abatement, County Executive Edward Mangano and GOP county legislators asserted that it was no longer needed, since they had largely frozen property taxes since taking control of government in 2010. They also sparred with Democratic state lawmakers over who was to blame over the abatement’s lapse.

After the public outcry, however, all sides sought to act quickly for a restoration. County Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said Tuesday: “We hope that our state legislators accept our home rule message and submit the appropriate extension legislation at the state level immediately.”

She said legislators want the abatement to retroactively cover this tax year, allowing affected residents to get a refund for any increases. Mangano, a Republican, said he supported the legislature’s effort.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, said they believe the abatement extension will pass in Albany.

“There does not appear to be obstacles,” said State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), a sponsor of the Senate bill. “But the key word is ‘appear.’”

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Gove), who is co-sponsoring the Assembly bill — and running for county executive, said: “It’s a shame that we had to get to this point, but nothing like a little crisis to provide an opportunity to set this right.”

With Matt Clark

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