Nassau County Executive Laura Curran this year will keep her predecessor’s program of settling most property tax challenges by reducing assessments before tax bills are issued, thus increasing the disparity in taxes paid by those who protest their values compared with those who do not.
But county officials, legislators and tax attorneys say Curran has no choice but to extend the settlement program — which has shifted $2.2 billion in taxes since 2011 from those who challenge their assessments to those who don’t — until an ongoing reassessment is completed and new property values are issued in January.
“We do not have a defensible tax roll,” said Curran spokesman Michael Martino. “We are forced into a settlement policy that reflects that fact.”
Continuing the settlement program “obviously would exacerbate the situation the administration wants to fix,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). “I’m not too sure of other options that you can do until you complete the reassessment.”
Former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano froze assessment increases in 2011 while granting thousands of reductions to property owners who challenged their values. The plan was to reduce the $100 million in tax refunds that Nassau was paying each year because of erroneous assessments.
But granting assessment reductions to some property owners increased tax bills for those who didn’t challenge their assessments — mostly in minority and low-income areas. A Newsday investigation last year found that $1.7 billion in taxes had been shifted from mostly affluent property owners to everyone else. A subsequent update in January increased the total shift to $2.2 billion. Newsday projected the disparity would likely grow by about $1 billion more until reassessment kicks in.
The settlement program also distorted assessments, which are supposed to reflect a property’s market value. Nassau had been updating values since a 2003 reassessment. But freezing the roll in 2011 “institutionalized the recession values on housing,” said tax attorney Laureen Harris, referring to the 2007 housing crash. The settlement program further reduced assessments even as house values rebounded. “In the last ten years we haven’t really looked at what the housing market is,” Harris said. “We know the market has changed dramatically.”
Harris acknowleged a negotiated change in the level of assessment will continue disparities. While the county website says residential properties are assessed at .25 percent of market value and commercial properties at one percent, the county has agreed with tax attorneys to reduce that percent of market value almost annually. For the most part, reducing the assessment ratio reduces a property’s assessment.
Last month, Robin Laveman, who heads Nassau’s assessment review commission, issued a memo saying the county had agreed to use a residential ratio of .14 percent compared to last year’s .15 percent. The commercial properties’ ratio would be .6 percent.
But those ratios apply only to protested properties.
“Only those who grieve are entitled to the .14 percent. Those who didn’t grieve will still be at .25 percent. And that’s the real problem,” said Jeff Gold, a private attorney who served on both the Nassau assessment board and assessment commission and now runs a website explaining how homeowners can protest their own assessment. “That means identical houses, one that grieved multiple times and one that didn’t, could pay 40 percent less in taxes. It’s really awful.”