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Elected Nassau assessor vote backed by legislative panel

Majority Republicans pushed through a bill to set a voter referendum on making the assessor's position an elected job, but County Executive Laura Curran said she would veto the bill.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in Wantagh on

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in Wantagh on March 5. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau legislative committee voted Monday to set a countywide referendum to establish an elected county tax assessor, although prospects for the bill are uncertain because of a threatened veto by County Executive Laura Curran.

Majority Republicans in the county legislature want to change the assessor position from an appointive to an elected one, citing an "error-riddled" countywide reassessment that is underway.

Voters would decide Nov. 5 whether to create an elected assessor's post. If the referendum is successful, candidates for assessor would run in the 2021 election.

The referendum bill requires approval later this month by the full legislature, where Republicans have an 11-8 majority.

But Curran, a Democrat, has said she will veto the bill. A supermajority of 13 lawmakers is required to override a veto, and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) has said his caucus opposes the referendum legislation.

The Rules Committee on Monday sent the bill to the full legislature in a party line, 4-2 vote. 

"We want it to go before the public and let the people decide," Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said in an interview after the vote.

But Abrahams said Monday, "An elected assessor creates bureaucracy" in a "process that needs less politics than anything else."

Nassau used to have an elected assessor, but in a 2008 referendum county residents voted to change to an appointed assessor. Republicans said they feared installation of a "bureaucrat" who would be less accountable to the public. 

Last month, Hempstead Tax Receiver Donald X. Clavin Jr., a GOP candidate in this fall's Hempstead Town Supervisor race, joined county Republican legislators at a news conference announcing the referendum bill.

Clavin and other Republicans have criticized County Assessor David Moog for problems with the reassessment rollout, the first after eight years of frozen tax rolls.

Putting an elected assessor on the ballot would inject the hot-button issue of reassessment directly into this fall's legislative races — all 19 county legislators are up for re-election — and the 2021 county executive race.

"The Republicans are trying to keep assessment in the minds of the voters because they see it as their only wedge issue against the Democrats," Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said Monday. 

In a statement, Curran said, “An assessor who has to win an election every few years might sacrifice best practices and the integrity of our property tax roll, for votes, as we’ve seen in the past."

She said she would oppose "any such effort to dismantle the progress we have made toward a more fair and equitable assessment roll.” 

Also Monday, a legislative committee passed a bill to increase penalties for selling tobacco products to customers who are under the age of 21.

The full legislature also approved $277.5 million in capital borrowing, including $74 million to renovate the Family and Matrimonial courts.

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