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Nassau property tax exemption for seniors expires

"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. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Nassau County let a long-standing property tax abatement expire without notice to the 35,000 seniors who received it, sparking complaints to elected officials and a political dispute over who’s to blame.

“This is going to affect a lot of people, and they never said anything,” said Irwin Scharf, 81, of Massapequa, who called his county and state representatives after he saw the abatement, worth $175 to him last year, missing from his newest tax bill.

“If people knew, maybe we would have lobbied,” he said.

The abatement was set by state and county laws passed in 2002, the year then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, proposed and the county legislature approved a 19.3 percent property tax increase in an effort to solve a fiscal crisis. The legislation called for its expiration after the completion last year of the 2015 tax roll.

Officials in the administration of County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, said a series of property tax freezes since Mangano took office in 2010 made an extension of the abatement unnecessary. They noted that nonsenior households paid a higher rate to make up the roughly $7 million that the abatement removed from the annual tax roll.

“Ed Mangano and the Republican legislature froze county property taxes for six years and therefore there is nothing to abate,” said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.

Residents eligible for the state’s “enhanced” School Tax Relief Program exemption, limited to those 65 and older earning less than $86,000 annually, also had received the county abatement. County Comptroller George Maragos estimated that 35,000 Nassau seniors saved about 5.5 percent a year on their general property taxes as a result.

In past years, the abatement was listed as a line on the bottom of residents’ tax bills. This year, the line was missing, without explanation.

After seniors such as Scharf began calling state and local elected officials for answers, officials began blaming each other for the lapse of the abatement.

Mangano said the state must first authorize abatements before counties can pass local laws enacting them.

But a Republican state senator and a Democratic assemblyman from Nassau said the state typically only acts after receiving a request from local government.

Nassau — whose 2017 budget faces a potential $60 million deficit, according to its state fiscal control board — never requested a new abatement, the state lawmakers said.

“This is a pure county generated program . . . and it is their decision not to continue it at the county level,” said state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), whose office has received calls about the expiring abatement and directed them to the county.

“In the past, we would have expected the county to monitor such important provisions, because it’s up to them to make the request for continuation,” said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who is running for county executive this year. “If that happened, the senate and legislature would have been very pleased to accommodate the county’s request.”

Mangano, in a response to Lavine, said the Democrats’ property tax hike made the abatement necessary in the first place — and that he and the now-GOP-controlled county legislature since 2010 had erased the added burden through tax freezes in all but one year, when a 3.4 percent increase was enacted.

“Your outrage is misdirected,” Mangano wrote.

Still, some residents are upset they didn’t receive notice of the expiring abatement. County legislators and Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges filed in October, frequently send out mailers with property tax-related tips.

Doris Meadows, a Glen Cove resident whose tax bill increased by $215 after the abatement expired, said she called her tax grievance company, Mangano’s office and her county legislator, Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), to inquire about the issue.

“It seems no one was informed that this was expiring and that seniors all over the county are being zapped,” Meadows said. “No notice, nothing.”

DeRiggi-Whitton said lawmakers were not briefed about the abatement’s expiration.

“I think it should have been a discussion we had during budget hearings, if we knew it was coming up,” she said.

Lavine said in a letter to Mangano last Thursday that he is working with the Assembly’s deputy speaker, Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), to propose state authorization legislation. Lavine said he “cannot comprehend” how Mangano let the abatement lapse.

In his response, Mangano referred to Lavine’s political aspirations, calling the assemblyman’s placement of blame “an embarrassment to not only you but to the office and residents in which you represent.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), in her writtenresponse to Lavine, said: “the County Legislature cannot initiate state legislation and have no bill to pass, but we would be happy to review any tax abatement legislation you propose.”

But Maragos, a Republican-turned-Democrat who also is running for county executive, said that no matter who was to blame, lawmakers should act quickly to restore the abatement.

“Our seniors must not be penalized because of an oversight by their government,” Maragos said.

NASSAU COUNTY TAX ABATEMENT FOR SENIORS

  • Enacted in 2002, when county proposed a 19.3 percent property tax increase, with expiration scheduled for 2016.
  • Residents 65 and older with annual household incomes of less than $86,000 received the abatement, worth about 5.5 percent of their county general property tax bills.
  • Estimated 35,000 seniors impacted by abatement’s end.

Source: Nassau County Comptroller

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