The head of the Nassau agency that decides property tax assessment challenges has won at least five reductions in value for her Oyster Bay Cove home in the past five years, cutting her assessment about 24 percent while saving thousands of dollars in property taxes, records show.
Assessment Review Commission chairperson Robin Laveman, a former deputy Nassau County attorney, has another challenge pending on her home’s assessment that will be used to generate next year’s tax bills, according to the county assessment website.
Laveman’s home in Oyster Bay Cove Village, which includes an adjoining undeveloped lot, is valued by the county at $1,103,200, county records show.
Online real estate sites Zillow and Realtor.com estimate her home’s value at more than $2 million, which means Laveman’s last $37,000 total tax bill would double if her assessment reflected her home’s market value and if the assessment ratios and tax rates stayed the same.
Since the county is adhering to a state law that limits assessment increases to 6 percent a year, or a total of 20 percent over five years, it will take decades for Laveman’s property to reach market value. Laveman didn't return calls seeking comment.
Jonathan Miller, head of the Manhattan-based appraisal company Miller Samuel, said a Zillow estimate of value is dependent on public records and can be inconsistent. “It could be very high. It could be very low. It could be spot on.” He said Zillow is generally most accurate for “cookie-cutter properties” and off the mark for unusual, unique homes — a common problem with mass appraisal techniques.
County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, has said a countywide reassessment will help bring equity to a broken assessment system that rewarded property owners who challenged their values and imposed an unfair tax burden on those who didn’t. The reassessment is scheduled to be completed by January.
A Newsday investigation last year showed that $1.7 billion in taxes was shifted from homeowners who won tax appeals to those who did not because the previous county administration, under Republican Edward Mangano, froze assessment increases in 2011 while granting thousands of reductions in a program to reduce tax refund costs.
“County Executive Curran’s decision to unfreeze the tax roll and bring homes to fair market value will level the playing field and eliminate the need, but never the right, to grieve your property assessment,” county spokesman Michael Martino said in a statement.
Critics say Curran’s pledge to follow the “6/20” law means homeowners, particularly in minority communities, who have rarely grieved their taxes will continue to pay more than their fair share because it will take years to bring the underassessed properties up to market values.
Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said at a recent legislative meeting that the county is continuing a “separate and unequal” assessment process. She said homeowners who haven’t grieved will reach full market value in one or two years compared with more than two decades for those who won multiple reductions.
“We should not shield those who have benefited from a system that was inappropriately allowed to make their values go down while others . . . stayed at the top end,” Bynoe said.
Bynoe declined to comment about the assessments of Curran administration employees.
A review of homes owned by Nassau officials involved in the assessment process shows all are undervalued, including the Garden City home of Curran’s chief deputy Helena Williams, who has spearheaded the reassessment, according to real estate websites the Curran administration says it will use to justify new assessments.
“We will not discuss the particulars of any situation,” said Martino, adding he was speaking on behalf of all employees involved in the assessment process. “All have acted within the guidelines set forth with regard to challenging a property assessment.”
The real estate websites indicate Laveman’s home is the most undervalued.
Martino said the Assessment Review Commission uses outside counsel for ARC members who grieve their property assessments to avoid any possible conflict of interests. “We will continue to monitor to ensure there are no conflicts and that there never will be conflicts,” Martino said.
ARC used John Ryan, the lawyer for the Nassau County Republican committee, until last year, Martino said. Robert Cimino, who served as Suffolk County attorney under Republican County Executive Robert Gaffney, was hired to handle the county employee grievances for the tax roll completed in April, he said.
A new county assessor, David Moog, has taken over the assessment department. Laveman continues to head the agency that considers challenges to the values set by Moog’s department.
Mangano appointed Laveman in January 2015 and she has overseen thousands of assessment reductions as part of Mangano’s settlement program. He reappointed her last December to a three-year term.
At Curran’s request, the Nassau Legislature in April increased Laveman’s salary to $140,000 from $103,500.
James Davis, who served as acting assessor in the Mangano administration, did not file any tax challenges for his home in Baldwin while he was overseeing the department. His house is valued at $283,000 — more than $100,000 below the $419,100 median Baldwin home value, according to Zillow. The site estimates Davis’ home value at $422,615. He did not return a call for comment.
Curran has not filed any assessment challenges since 2001 on her Baldwin home, which the county says has a fair market value of $358,400. Zillow estimates Curran’s house value at $520,402. She could not be reached.
County records show Williams, Curran’s chief deputy, has a challenge pending on her Garden City house, filed Feb. 28. Martino said she has withdrawn it, but did not provide a copy of the letter of withdrawal required by ARC nor did he say when it was withdrawn. Williams referred all comment to Martino.
Williams had won a reduction for the 2016-17 tax year before she started working for the county, but had to go to court to win a reduction for the 2017-18 tax roll, county records show. She was denied a reduction for this year’s tax roll.
Williams’ house is assessed by the county at a fair market value of $717,200, but Zillow estimates its value at $932,299 and Realtor.com estimates it at $1,103,700.
Deputy County Assessor Steve Corte also has a challenge pending on his Westbury house, which is valued at $368,000, compared with the median Zillow value for his neighborhood of $467,600. Zillow estimates his house is worth $588,608. He could not be reached for comment.
Martino said property owners filed more than 200,000 challenges this year “because the message for the last eight years was grieve, grieve, grieve. The prior administration, as well as the members of the legislature, aggressively promoted workshops to teach residents how to grieve their assessment while the tax roll was frozen and market values skyrocketed.”
Moog lives in Queens and told legislators he does not plan to move, so he can’t file a challenge in Nassau County.
NASSAU ASSESSMENT APPEALS PROCESS
Property owners file grievances with the Nassau Assessment Review Commission, an independent agency that operates separately from the county’s Department of Assessment.
The Nassau County Assessor on Jan. 2 publishes the tentative assessment roll.
The Assessment Review Commission reviews 2019-20 appeals between April 3, 2018, and March 29, 2019.
March 29, 2019: ARC delivers decisions for 2019-20 grievances.
April 1, 2019: Assessment Department posts final assessment roll that reflects ARC changes and exemption changes.
April 30, 2019: Final day to file for judicial review of the final 2019-20 assessments.
Source: Nassau County Assessment Review Commission