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Nassau Democratic lawmakers block GOP bill for assessor referendum

Nassau County Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde

Nassau County Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) is calling for more transparency in the assessment process. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature blocked a Republican-sponsored bill to set a November referendum asking voters if they support moving to an elected, rather than an appointed, assessor.

Republicans failed to secure enough votes to override County Executive Laura Curran's veto of their bill, approved in a party-line vote of 11-8 in February. Republicans needed 13 votes to override Curran's veto, but only the 11-member Republican caucus voted to override.

If voters were to favor an elected assessor in the referendum, the county would hold an election for the job in June 2022.

It was the second time in three years that Democrats had blocked a Republican bill to establish an elected assessor.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the Curran administration was "secretive" and "arrogant" in its handling of the first reassessment in nearly a decade.

Nicolello said: "The assessment function is one of the most important functions that a government can do. Quite simply if you get it wrong, you can have a lack of fairness, of someone paying an unfair amount of taxes. You can literally cause people to lose their homes."

He continued: "This administration has done a miserable job in terms of transparency and this assessment process."

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Republicans were motivated by politics.

He conceded that "mistakes have been made," but said, "every single taxpayer in this county understands that if they want to hold anyone accountable, they could hold the County Executive accountable."

Abrahams blamed former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, for freezing the assessment roll.

He said it was hypocritical of Republicans to call for an elected assessor now, but not during Mangano's tenure, when his administration instituted a decadelong assessment freeze and granted tax settlements to many filers.

Democrats argue that an elected assessor would be reluctant to make the correct, but politically unpopular decisions about taxes and say the job should be held by someone with technical expertise.

Republicans said Robin Laveman, Curran's nominee for the vacant job, lacks the technical training of an assessor.

Laveman, who heads the county's Assessment Review Commission, has been taking assessment classes to gain accreditation, officials said in January.

County spokesman Michael Fricchione said in a statement that Republicans "remain focused on playing politics with property assessment" and are "deliberately stalling" Laveman's appointment.

Also Monday, a legislative committee approved a bill requiring Nassau to comply with a settlement of a lawsuit filed by residents who challenged the reassessment. The county has paid $300,000 in legal fees to the plaintiff as part of a court judgment.

County officials said Monday they had complied with terms of the settlement.

Officials have added a page to the county's website, titled "Reassessment Methodologies," to explain in "plain English" how the reassessment was done, according to the settlement.. Fricchione said the website went live last week.

"Calculation ladders," which include a list of variables affecting the home's valuation, were removed from the county's website, as part of the settlement.

The Rules Committe vote was 4-0, with three Democrats abstaining.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said the bill might be unnecessary since the county appeared to have just complied with the settlement. She proposed working on a "bipartisan" resolution requiring Nassau to follow transparency rules during every reassessment.

Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said it was "hard to ignore the coincidence" of the county publishing the material as the legislation was introduced.

Also Monday, a county legislative committee approved laws barring marijuana-smoking in county parks and properties, and updated its social-host law, to bar adults from allowing minors to consume cannabis in their private residences.

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