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Nassau executive Laura Curran's veto of assessor referendum upheld

Presiding Officer Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park)

Presiding Officer Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) on Monday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau legislators on Monday failed to override County Executive Laura Curran’s veto of a Republican bill that would have put the question of whether to switch to an elected county tax assessor before voters in November.

Democrats sank the override by refusing to provide majority Republicans with the supermajority of 13 votes necessary to overturn a county executive veto. All 11 Republicans voted to override, and the eight Democrats voted no.

Democrats argued that switching from an appointed to an elected assessor would open the door to unqualified candidates.

“We rejected a flawed proposal that would have potentially allowed political party bosses — from either party — to put an unqualified individual in the position of making crucial decisions that impact every Nassau County taxpayer,” said legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

Republicans cited Curran’s “error-riddled” reassessment of more than 400,000 properties in pressing for an elected assessor.

“From the beginning of the property assessment debacle, the majority caucus has been fighting to give residents a strong voice on this issue,” said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). “It’s telling that as much as the county executive touts the reassessment’s transparency and accountability, she refuses to allow the taxpayers to confirm or reject that notion in November.”

The GOP bill requesting a ballot referendum on whether to create an elected assessor’s position passed April 22. Curran vetoed the bill on May 14.

David Moog, a Curran appointee, serves as county assessor.

The vote Tuesday followed nearly two hours of tense debate in which GOP and Democratic leaders spoke over each other, trading political jabs.

Democrats recalled the 2009 referendum in which voters changed the position from an elected to an appointed job, and argued that putting the issue on the November ballot would bring out more Republican voters. All 19 members of the county legislature are up for re-election this year.

Abrahams warned of an elected assessor “who will make decisions based on votes in a particular area.”

Addressing Republicans, Abrahams said, “don’t try to claim that you are giving power to the people because you don’t really believe it. We’ve been down this road before.”

Abrahams urged lawmakers to instead back a plan to spread property tax changes over five years, to lessen the impact on homeowners who may experience a sharp rise in their taxes because of reassessment.

Republicans said taxpayers have the right to be “stakeholders” in the reassessment process.

“It’s a matter of knowing how to get things done — getting it done right and getting it done with accuracy,” said Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence). “The fact that we have a record number of people who are protesting their valuations is a testament to the fact that something is wrong. Clearly what we are doing now is not working.”

After the vote, Curran said, “elected officials should offer solutions built on best practices, and not empty political gestures such as this local law — which doesn’t even require a qualified individual. As seen in the past, an elected assessor would be pressed to do the popular thing for some residents instead of the right thing for all residents. “

Curran, a Democrat, said her veto represented “another step to ensure Nassau doesn’t go back to a broken system racking up enormous debt and unfairly shifting tax burden onto property owners who didn’t grieve.”

Curran, who took office January 2018, has implemented the first reassessment of Nassau County’s residential and commercial properties in nearly a decade. The tax rolls had been frozen under her predecessor, Edward Mangano, a Republican.

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