Nassau County will freeze property values in 2022-23 at the previous year's level in an effort to avoid sharp swings in assessments after the coronavirus pandemic caused volatility in the housing market and spiking home prices, officials said Wednesday.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the freeze would be "temporary," and not a yearslong abandonment of a countywide property reassessment aimed at creating a tax roll that precisely reflects market values.
"We’ve seen these double-digit increases in the communities and bidding wars with all the people moving from the city to the suburbs," Curran, a Democrat, said in an interview. "It’s great news for homeowners, but this dramatic increase in sale prices is going to unfairly skew property assessments. It's all very unusual."
Under Curran’s property reassessment, homeowners received new values that will be used to calculate their property tax bills.
Under the "phased-in" reassessment, as Curran refers to it, homeowners will be paying their full share of the tax burden by the end of a 5-year period.
The county also has begun to update property assessments annually. The program uses a "trending" process, in which home values in each school district are raised by a uniform percentage, depending on recent sales data.
County officials said Wednesday they will not apply such changes to the 2022-23 tentative assessment roll, scheduled for release on Jan. 4.
Instead, Curran and other county officials said the plan is to wait for the housing market to settle, once the pandemic is over, before making changes to homeowners' valuations.
However, Nassau County Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the legislative presiding officer, said Curran's "assessment freeze locks in erroneous values guaranteeing that tens of thousands of homeowners will continue to pay more than their fair share of taxes."
Nicolello said Curran should "direct" county Assessor David Moog, "to do his job or bring in someone who will."
County officials said they could not estimate the effect of the valuation freeze on property tax bills.
County officials did say there were "double digit" spikes in some communities, but did not identify which had the largest increases.
"Pausing the roll will give at least predictability in the coming year," Moog said.
Moog acknowledged the "best policy is to reassess and at least trend and update the values every year. And we would have done that if it weren't for the pandemic."
Moog said officials intend to have only a "one-year pause."
The 1-year freeze in valuations highlights the enormous challenge that county administrations, Democratic and Republican, have faced as they sought to produce accurate assessment rolls.
Moog said officials decided to impose the freeze because they could not determine accurate sales trends from available market data.
Home sales skyrocketed in the late spring and early summer this year once state restrictions on open houses were lifted. Ultimately, he said, it was "impossible to do a tax roll that would be rational and reasonable."
Moog continued: "This is not something normal. The increase in values that occurred in that three-month period was greater than any increase was ever experienced in Nassau County’s history."
The freeze holds the current values in place, completed after a yearlong reassessment and subsequent trending.
After "this pause, next year we can pick up and see where the country’s going," Moog said in an interview.
Former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, froze the tax rolls in 2011 to prevent costly litigation over assessments and continued the freeze after superstorm Sandy disrupted the housing market the following year.
The lengthy freeze in the roll, and the practice of granting mass settlements, led to inaccurate assessments and inequities in the tax burden.
Curran ordered the reassessment of all properties in 2018.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he backed Curran's imposition of a temporary freeze.
He said the county had worked to reassess the more than 385,000 residential properties in the county.
"Laura’s administration actually put in the work to be able to go through the revaluation and do the proper reassessment," Abrahams said.
Mangano "never did the reassessment. He just froze the rolls," Abrahams said.
County officials said the freeze will apply to all four classes of taxpayers, including commercial property owners.
County officials said it was difficult to calculate commercial values because it was unclear what their revenue and expenses were during the pandemic. That metric is needed to calculate their assessments, and many small businesses couldn't stay open or keep up with rent.
"This is temporary; it’s a pause based on the pandemic," Curran said. "The pandemic will hopefully be over next year and then we can get back to reassessment."
FREEZE IN NASSAU PROPERTY VALUES
Nassau County will freeze property values for 2022-23 at the previous year's level. It’s an effort to avoid sharp swings in assessments after the coronavirus pandemic caused volatility in the housing market.
Also, a program to update property assessments annually to keep values consistent with changes in the real estate market will be suspended for the 2022-23 tax year. Under the program, home values in each school district are raised by a uniform percentage each year.
County Executive Laura Curran’s plan to reassess all county residential and commercial properties will continue uninterrupted. Under reassessment, homeowners will be paying their full share of the tax burden by the end of a 5-year period.
The goal of reassessment is to create an accurate tax roll that will stand up in court when property owners dispute their assessments. Over the years, Nassau County has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for successful challenges to inaccurate assessments.