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Nassau reassessment riles homeowners

Thousands of property owners have contacted county assessors since new home values and tax impact statements began appearing online and their mailboxes.

Cory Eisner with his Tax Impact Notice in

Cory Eisner with his Tax Impact Notice in front of his Levittown home. His notification shows the market value on his home would rise, and he's worried that his taxes are projected to go up almost $3,000 by 2020-21.  Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Frustration and confusion among many Nassau County property owners is building as new home values and tax impact statements start appearing online and in residents' mailboxes projecting tax increases for more than half the county's homeowners because of reassessment.

Thousands of property owners have phoned and emailed the county assessment department with questions or complaints about the reassessment, the first since 2010.

Page views on the county website nearly doubled to 11 million in early November, compared with the end of October. And residents have packed informational public meetings.

Tax notices, required under state law, were sent out Nov. 1 showing residents their new market values under the countywide reassessment, expected to take effect in 2020-21. Estimated tax bills were published online Nov. 20 and were first mailed out last week. 

The notices come after years of unsuccessful efforts by the county to fix inaccurate assessment rolls that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of successful tax challenges.

The large number of grievances settled by the county meant that other homeowners who had not filed challenges had to shoulder a greater proportion of the property tax burden.

Former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, froze the tax rolls in 2011, also in a bid to reduce legal challenges.

“It's outrage and people feel betrayed," Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said of residents' reaction to their new home values and estimated taxes.

 "They've been encouraged to participate in a grievance process," he said. "They feel as though they're being punished for doing what the system was set up to tell them to do."

Homeowners "just don't understand what's happening, why it’s happening, and what they can do to protect themselves,” said Rhoads. 

However, County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who launched the reassessment of the county's more than 400,000 residential and commercial properties, said many residents back her for moving to fix inaccurate tax rolls.

"I would characterize it as a very low-drama atmosphere,” she said in an interview. "I’m hearing a lot of 'Good for you, you’re doing the right thing.'"

Curran said reassessment will help Nassau end the cycle of borrowing to pay the backlog of successful tax challenges and defend its tax roll in court.

Nassau's tax liability was $569 million at the end of 2017; the county plans to borrow a total of $300 million to help pay for the challenges. 

"If we don’t do it, it will become more unfair, more inaccurate, and we will get deeper in debt, and that’s something that everybody in the county will have to pay," Curran said of reassessment.

Controversy over the reassessment has been escalating since September when Curran lowered the level of assessment — the percentage of full market value that is used to calculate tax bills — from .25 to .1 percent.

The effect is that homes will be assessed at fair market value much sooner. To blunt the immediate impact of assessment hikes, Curran is seeking state legislation that would allow for a five-year phase-in of increases.

Meanwhile, the $10,000 cap on local property tax deductions in the new federal tax bill took effect in 2018, adding to concerns about sticker shock in high-tax areas such as Nassau.

Under Curran's reassessment plan, nearly 52 percent of homeowners are expected to see tax increases, while 48 percent will see decreases, according to data provided by the county.

At the extremes, more than 11,000 residents will have increases of $5,000 or more, while more than 10,000 will see reductions in that range. Upward of 39,000 homeowners will have increases totaling more than $3,000, while more than 33,000 will see reductions of more than $3,000. 

On Nov. 26, in pummeling rain, Cory Eisner, 63, of Levittown, joined about 200 people who came out for back-to-back informational sessions on reassessment hosted by Nassau County Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) at the Levittown Public Library.

Eisner's notification shows the market value on his home would rise from $289,200 to $631,000.

"First I was excited. If I can get over 600, I'm selling now," he recalled thinking. But he said, "This may not be accurate. It's a little disconcerting . . . Is that how much I could get for the house if it was on the market today?"

"For now, I'm worried," said Eisner, whose taxes are projected to rise from $10,168 in 2017-18 to $12,993 in 2020-21. If the state legislation passes, his taxes will rise to $11,106 in 2020-21. 

"If I stay, I've got to come up with potentially another $3,000 a year in taxes," if his new market value takes effect immediately, Eisner said. "If I sell the house, is someone going to be less likely to pay the money because the taxes are more expensive than I thought they were? Has my house become less attractive because potentially, in the blink of an eye, they're going to raise my taxes $3,000?"

Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of the Manhattan-based appraisal company Miller Samuel, said, "we have a potential perfect storm of the impact of the new tax law and the loss of deductions . . . And on top of it, there is a countywide reassessment going on, so both could result in higher homeownership costs that I'm assuming many had not anticipated."

Miller, who writes reports about the Long Island housing market for real estate company Douglas Elliman, said prospective home buyers factor in real estate taxes in particular neighborhoods.

“When the purchases are made, the buyers do that calculation, and one of those variables is changing and so, as expected, that’ll create a lot of confusion in the market," Miller said. "It just depends on how significant of an increase it is.”

Prodded by such concerns, county lawmakers have stepped up their complaints about the reassessment, and are contacting residents to try to explain the new system.

Rhoads has posted a 12½-minute Facebook video in which he provides mathematical calculations to show the impact of reassessment.
 The video has 23,000 views and nearly 300 comments. 

Nassau Legis. Joshua Lafazan of Woodbury, who does not belong to a political party but caucuses with Democrats, says in emailed responses to residents who call his office with reassessment complaints, "I never voted or agreed to this plan, and I stand vehemently opposed to this plan which makes it harder for my constituents to live on Long Island."

In an interview, Lafazan said of Curran: "We have fundamental disagreements over the right path forward.”

Asked about the prospects for passage of a five-year phase-in, Mike Murphy, a spokesman for incoming majority Senate Democrats, said: "One of our top concerns is ensuring that there is real tax relief for Long Island and all hard working New Yorkers. We will discuss these concerns as a conference and rely on the expertise of our Nassau delegation."

At the Levittown Library forum on Nov. 26, Eisner said he was perplexed by the discussion of a phase-in.

"I felt like that whole meeting was hypothetical," he said. "There were so many what if's that it was almost not helpful.” 

Jonathan Hart, 35, of Levittown, who also attended one of Ferretti's meetings, learned his home's market value had risen from $242,400 to $452,000. He paid $395,000 for the Cape Cod-style home in 2015, and his total property taxes are projected to rise from $11,595.04 in 2017-18 to $12,719.70 in 2020-21.

Hart says he spent an hour and a half the next night researching his neighbors’ comparables.

“I feel like we’re not being told the whole story in order to push this through, and they’re not really giving us a chance to fight this, without someone looking into it,” Hart said.

George Diacumakos, 53, who spoke with Curran and Nassau County Assessor David Moog at a satellite county assessment office at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn, said his 1937 Colonial in Manhasset had a market value of $838,000, as of the 2017-18 tax roll. Under reassessment, the market value will jump to $2.011 million for the 2020-21 tax year, online records show.

The county estimated his total taxes at $22,393.90 for 2020-21, compared with $16,638.53 in 2017-18.

“It’s very bad, it’s tough,” Diacumakos said.

In an effort to explain the new assessment system to residents, and address their individual concerns, Moog has deployed tax specialists to four new satellite offices in Roslyn, Lido Beach and Westbury. 

So far, 14,000 residents have phoned or emailed the offices with questions, and 4,000 have met with specialists to discuss their assessments, Moog said.

In the first two weeks of November, after homeowners' new values had been mailed, there were 11 million individual page views on the department’s land record viewer pages, compared with 6 million during the last two weeks of October.

But county officials say they have yet to see evidence of a storm over reassessment.

"I've gotten hugs and kisses,” said Meris Davis, a tax specialist working at the Roslyn satellite office.

Homeowners who come in say things like, “My house is not worth that . . .,” Davis said.

“I think most people are going out of here informed [and] not feeling they [are] having the wool turned, pulled over their eyes," she said. 

District increases ranked

Nassau County is mailing Tax Impact Notices to homeowners, showing the new market values of their homes under a countywide reassessment. The notices also show homeowners their 2017-18 property taxes, including for schools, and their hypothetical 2020-21 taxes.

County Assessor David Moog said the overwhelming number of homeowners will see their market values rise, after years of frozen assessments. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean their tax bills will rise by the same percentage as the market value. Generally, homeowners are more likely to see tax increases if they had grieved continuously over the years, driving down their market values, Moog said.

Also, the impact of the reassessment can vary significantly by school district.

The average increase is highest in school districts in:

  • Brookville, $6,146
  • Cold Spring Harbor, $4,534
  • Locust Valley,  $4,225
  • Jericho, $4,110
  • Glen Head, $3,935.

The top 5 districts with increases of $5,000 or more are:

  •  Syosset, 1,009 homeowners
  • Great Neck, 910
  • Jericho, 833
  • Port Washington, 776
  • Manhasset, 664

 Source: Nassau County Assessor

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