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Long IslandPolitics

Judge extends order keeping Nassau from enforcing fines

A state court judge Wednesday extended a restraining order barring Nassau from enforcing hundreds of thousands of dollars of penalties against county businesses that were fined for allegedly not filing required financial reports with the county assessor.

Nassau had warned commercial property owners in December that it would turn the fines into liens, accruing 12 percent interest annually, if not paid by Friday.

But state Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano in Mineola ordered the county not to take any action until at least Feb. 22, when another court hearing is scheduled.

That means all of Nassau’s commercial owners “are protected from tax liens and penalties,” said Uniondale attorney Laureen Harris, representing about 100 businesses. “They don’t have to worry” for now.

About 2,000 commercial property owners, represented by 11 law firms, filed suit against Nassau last month, contending the penalties for not filing “income-and-expense statements” are excessive and illegal.

Lawyers argue the county imposed the fines on businesses that had filed the required reports and on businesses that are exempt from filing. They also contend the fines — some of which top $300,000 — are disproportionate to the offense, and argue that the county had not provided required notice or held hearings before imposing the penalties in December.

In a statement, County Attorney Carnell Foskey predicted the county ultimately would prevail in the suits.

“The county anticipates the court upholding this validly enacted law that will make assessments more accurate and save taxpayers from paying refunds,” Foskey wrote.

County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration is being represented in court by Mangano’s former law firm, Rivkin Radler.

Attorney Donald Leistman of Mineola, representing some 800 business owners, said Wednesday that the county served its response to commercial property owners’ lawsuits on Tuesday at 11 p.m., which gave none of the attorneys enough time to review or reply to them. “We were collectively seeking more time to address the county response,” he said. “The judge agreed.”

Leistman added, “The key thing is the county cannot take any action to enforce the penalties imposed.”

The county legislature in December 2013 increased the fines for failing to file the statements, which are used by the assessor to value commercial property, but the county never has collected the additional money because of continuing legal challenges to the law.

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