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Nassau error eliminated exemptions for Cold War veterans

County Executive Laura Curran has filed legislation to issue $176,000 in refunds to 763 U.S. military veterans who served during the Cold War.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks on Jan.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks on Jan. 17 in Mineola.  Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau mistakenly eliminated property tax exemptions for more than 750 military veterans in last month’s general tax bills, county officials acknowledged this week, as County Executive Laura Curran submitted legislation to issue $176,000 in refunds to the former Cold War troops.

Curran, a Democrat, blamed the mistake on former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's outdated county computer system — even though her office said last week it had instituted “three layers of review” to prevent tax bill errors. Also, Curran herself  signed a local law in April that reauthorized and increased the Cold War exemption.

Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed Thursday said the exemption “wasn’t missed” when Nassau gave the general tax bill data to towns and cities at the end of December.

“It was inputted, but the computer bumped it off,” Geed said.

Hempstead Town Tax Receiver Donald Clavin, a Republican, said his office has been telling the Curran administration since Jan. 2 that there was a problem with exemptions for Cold War and disabled veterans. He provided Newsday with a timeline of his office’s contacts with the county.

“We informed the county of the issue,” Clavin said. “This is the Laura Curran administration. She has been there for a year. It’s time for them to accept responsibility for their errors.”

The Cold War veterans property tax exemption, which eliminates as much as 15 percent of assessed value, was reauthorized and increased by the county legislature in March 2018 and signed into law by Curran on April 2.

The exemption is available to those who served in the U.S. military from Sept. 2, 1945 through Dec. 26, 1991. It does not apply to school taxes — only to levies on the general tax bill, which include county and town taxes.

The law went into effect as soon as Curran signed it. That means the exemption should have been included in the county tax data used to generate the general tax bills, which go out in early January.

That data received greater scrutiny this year, Curran’s office said, after Nassau last year erroneously overcharged homeowners in five villages a total of $9.3 million for sewage disposal in the 2018 general tax bills. Refunds of as much as $600 were sent to affected homeowners in November.

Because of the sewer error, Curran last February ordered her Office of Management and Budget to identify ways to modernize Nassau’s “outdated” budgeting systems to “prevent this failure from happening again.”

Although Curran never publicly explained how the sewer system error occurred, officials said the mistake was made in the budget office during the waning days of Mangano’s final term, which ended Dec. 31, 2017.

Asked what changes had been made to prevent new errors, Curran spokeswoman Karen Contino said last week the 2018-2019 tax roll was “reviewed and signed off on by at least three layers of review.”

Contino said later that two deputy budget directors and the budget director signed off on the tax levy information used for the general tax bills.

Curran in her statement said the error affecting Cold War veterans occurred because, “the Mangano administration failed to update the county’s critical IT system which canceled out some Cold War exemptions.”

She said 763 of the county’s approximately 3,600 Cold War veterans “were impacted by this system defect from the Mangano administration.”

She insisted, “I didn’t create this mess.”

But the Clavin timeline indicates the problem occurred when the Curran administration in December created new codes for the Cold War and disabled veterans exemptions for general tax bills. Hempstead notified the county on Jan. 2 that the new exemption codes were missing from some parcels, the timeline shows.

Asked why the codes were changed, assessment staff said the county had opted to grant a higher exemption value than the townships — an apparent reference to the 2018 legislation.

Geed said, “In April 2018, the exemption levels changed by local law. The exemptions were inputted at the new levels. However, the system could not accept two exemption levels causing both to be bumped out.”

Geed did not respond to a question about why Curran staff had not noticed the deletions.

The Clavin timeline describes conversations about the exemption problem through Jan. 24.

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders say they will support refunds ranging from $17 to $310 for individual affected veterans.

“Nassau County’s brave veterans have earned this relief through their selfless service,” said Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), said in a statement, “It is troubling, however, that the County Executive is blaming others for an error her administration clearly made.”

Legis. John Ferretti (R-Levittown), chairman of the legislature’s Veterans and Senior Affairs committee, said, “We will help fix this, but I find it astounding that the county executive would blame anyone other than her assessor for yet another error in his department, this one affecting hundreds of veterans.”

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