County Executive Laura Curran Thursday blamed Nassau’s three town tax receivers for making “erroneous public statements” when they said some seniors were overbilled for their sewer taxes last month.
But two of the three independently elected receivers, both Republicans, responded that Curran, a Democrat, was wrong and stood by their findings that senior sewer tax abatements were missing from county data used to generate last month’s general tax bills.
The third tax receiver, North Hempstead’s Charles Berman, a Democrat, met with the county treasurer Thursday and now agrees that seniors were not overcharged.
All three receivers had reported Wednesday that total overcharges appeared to amount to more than $300,000 countywide.
Curran called a news conference Thursday to say her administration conducted a review of assessment data sent to the three towns in late December.
“We have concluded that the receivers of taxes are incorrect,” Curran said. “Let me say it again — they are incorrect.”
Oyster Bay Tax Receiver James Stefanich, who was elected as a Democrat and later re-registered as a Republican, called Curran's assertion “a gross misrepresentation of the facts . . . To say something like this is ducking away from their responsibility. If there’s an error or a problem, they should fix it and not try to blame somebody else.”
Hempstead Tax Receiver Donald Clavin said, “It’s always somebody else’s fault.”
Clavin noted numerous problems that have occurred with Curran’s reassessment, the mistaken elimination of exemptions for some Cold War veterans and an erroneous robocall about expiring exemptions that brought hundreds of seniors to the Nassau Assessment Department on a cold morning last year.
“I think it’s time for Laura Curran to look in the mirror and take responsibility for her broken assessment department," said Clavin. "All of Nassau’s receivers can’t be wrong about her tax roll mistakes that are costing taxpayers money. The North Hempstead Receiver from her own party says her tax roll is defective.”
Berman had said Wednesday, “We made the county aware that there was a problem last year, however we never got an explanation. It seems like this problem has reoccurred this year.”
He said through a spokeswoman Thursday, “There was a crucial piece of information missing when we initially reconciled our property tax collection with the warrant. We have now received the information we need and it has been resolved. There were no seniors who were supposed to receive the abatement who didn’t.”
The senior abatement on county taxes was approved by the Nassau County Legislature in 2002 as a way to offset a 19.3 percent county property tax hike passed that year. Abatements lower taxes while exemptions lower assessed value. Senior citizens who qualify for the enhanced STAR tax exemption are eligible for the abatement.
Curran said Nassau provided the town receivers with the correct abatement information to include in tax bills of qualifying seniors. All seniors who were eligible got the tax benefit and do not need to take additional steps, she said.
She said the county reviewed tax bills from each town. “We have concluded that at least one receiver does not understand the accounting for abatements,” Curran said. Her spokeswoman said Curran was referring to Berman.
Curran offered to help town receivers better understand how sewer and stormwater fund abatements are calculated.
“We did the right thing. There may have been some confusion in some of the town receivers’ offices, some accounting confusion, and we are happy to help them sort that out,” Curran said. “We’ve done everything correctly on our end.”
Clavin responded, “If you want to help, you should actually have people answer the phones in the assessment department and actually have the courtesy to respond to the people looking for help. We reached out on several occasions yesterday and couldn’t even get the courtesy of a return phone call.”
Stefanich said his office had not been able to get any clarification about the abatements. “Until they come up with the details, tell me who should be getting it and who shouldn’t, then we can investigate,” Stefanich said. “The county executive should not be concentrating on pointing fingers at people. She should be concentrating on fixing the problem.”