Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Republican challenger Bruce Blakeman clashed over reassessment's impact on homeowners’ property tax bills during the first Newsday Live Town Hall conversation of the 2021 election season.
Curran, a Democrat seeking reelection, said the reassessment produced property values that are accurate.
"You can’t get closer to accurate than this," she said during Thursday's event, citing a review by New York State.
Blakeman, a Hempstead Town Council member, called for the county to conduct a new reassessment, saying some properties remain underassessed while others are overvalued.
"It was done in a shoddy manner, it was negligent," Blakeman said, arguing that some homeowners' tax bills had increased by thousands of dollars.
Curran responded that she hasn’t raised county property taxes in four years and has proposed a tax reduction in the 2022 county budget now under review by the Nassau County Legislature.
She said school boards, not the county, set the property tax levy for public schools.
Besides taxes, Curran and Blakeman sparred over federal COVID-19 funds, crime, road repair, affordable housing, red-light cameras and other issues in response to questions submitted to Newsday by Nassau residents.
Joye Brown, the newspaper's associate editor, moderated the virtual town hall at the new Newsday Studio 2 in Melville.
The event may be viewed at newsdaylive.com.
The town hall featured two longtime figures from Nassau's political scene.
Curran, 53, is a former Baldwin school board member and Nassau County legislator who was elected county executive in 2017. She is seeking a second term in the Nov. 2 election.
Blakeman, 65, served as Deputy Hempstead Town Supervisor under former Democratic town Supervisor Laura Gillen. He also served as a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
During the Newsday event, Blakeman criticized Curran for distributing $375 checks to all but the most affluent homeowners using $100 million in federal pandemic-relief funds.
He said the Hempstead Town Board used its allocation of federal aid last year for coronavirus testing, meals for the hungry and other initiatives.
"You are handing out the money you got two years ago … What about when people needed it?" Blakeman said to Curran. "You’re doing it as a political ploy."
Curran said the county’s finances have improved, to the point where Nassau has a budget surplus. And she has proposed a $70 million tax cut in her 2022 budget.
Curran argued that "we do not need" the $100 million in federal pandemic aid funds.
"So we’re pushing it out to our residents because prices are going up," for food, gasoline and household goods, she said.
"We’ve finally tamed the beast of Nassau County finances," Curran asserted.
Responding to an audience member's question, both candidates said they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Nonetheless, Blakeman stressed the need for "respect for everybody’s opinion" about whether to get the shot.
Curran said she is "100% pro-vax."
Curran touted what she called Nassau’s best-in-the-state vaccination rate. She cited state data showing 94% of adults in the county have had at least one vaccine dose.
Blakeman said Nassau had been slow to implement a vaccination program, although initially only the state was authorized to administer shots.
He also repeatedly raised the issues of crime and state changes to how criminal bail is determined, even when town hall questions were about other topics.
Blakeman argued that crime has increased in Nassau since bail reform was implemented last year, an argument made by Republicans across the state.
The bail reform law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes.
Blakeman said he was best suited to fight crime after working on homeland security programs as a Port Authority board member.
Curran said major crime is down by 5% and noted the reopening of two police precincts that were closed by former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.
"I was very, very clear that I thought bail reform went too far, too fast," Curran said. "I put together a common-sense coalition of law enforcement personnel to come up with solutions to this debacle."
Last year, then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law changes to bail reform, including more latitude for judges in setting bail.
Returning to reassessment, Blakeman argued that 34,000 erroneous assessments have been identified in the past two years, and seven mansions paid no property taxes after the reassessment.
"You have multimillion mansions under your reassessment in Nassau County that are paying no taxes, zero," he said.
Curran interrupted, saying, "Those are seven anomalies, which is a result of the mismanagement of the past."
County records show that those properties had their tax bills wiped out only in the 2020-21 tax year, because of a new exemption intended to delay the impact of assessment increases caused by reassessment.
One point of agreement between Curran and Blakeman was the need for more affordable housing in the county.
Both endorsed construction of apartments in downtowns adjacent to Long Island Rail Road stations.
Next week, Newsday will present virtual town halls with the candidates for district attorney in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Ray Tierney will answer voters’ questions at an event that will be available for viewing online on Tuesday.
The Nassau district attorney candidates, Republican Anne Donnelly and Democrat Todd Kaminsky, will face off on Wednesday.
ON THE ISSUES
Reassessment & Property Taxes
Democrat Laura Curran: “The state looked at the new [property] values and said you can’t get closer to accurate.”
Republican Bruce Blakeman: “It’s broke and I will fix it. We have to start over.”
$375 Checks for Homeowners
Curran: “We do not need [$100 million in federal COVID-19 funds] so we’re pushing it out to our residents because prices are going up.”
Blakeman: “You’re doing it as a political ploy by giving everybody a couple of weeks before the election a check for $375.”
Curran: “I am 100% pro-vax.”
Blakeman: “With respect to vaccinations, I’m vaccinated but I also respect an individual’s right. It’s a health care decision that should be made between a physician and a patient.”
Curran: “Because of our consecutive [budget] surpluses and because of my fiscal discipline, we’re actually in a position now to unload NIFA [a state financial control board] in the coming months.”
Blakeman: “The reason why there’s a surplus is because the [county’s] debt was refinanced. What you’re doing is just kicking the can down the road.”
— Compiled by James T. Madore