Nassau legislators delayed a vote Monday on two contract amendments needed complete a reassessment of all county properties by January 2019 after the head of the county’s largest union argued the work would violate existing labor contracts.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sought to extend the contracts, originally approved in 2015, to two Mineola-based contractors, Standard Valuation Services and Michael Haberman Associates, to determine the value of all county properties. Nassau has paid the firms a total of $3.8 million and Curran wants to spend another $2.6 million to complete the work.
Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, said the deal violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates that county workers cannot be laid off and their work outsourced to private vendors.
Former County Executive Edward Mangano laid off 69 Assessment Department employees in 2011, Laricchiuta said. In total, he said, the department’s staffing has been cut from 234 in 2011 to 111 in 2018.
“This is work that should be done in house, but we can’t do it right now because we don’t have enough staff,” said Laricchiuta.
A vote by the GOP-controlled Rules Committee on the contract amendments could occur as early as March 12.
The delay in the contract amendments could jeopardize the planned reassessment, which Mangano, a Republican, promised in 2010 would take place as early as 2014, although years of delays followed.
In the interim, Mangano overhauled the tax system in a manner that reversed years of successful efforts to increase the accuracy and fairness of county assessments. The overhaul granted reductions to three-quarters of those who challenged their assessments and froze the assessments of other properties. That shifted $1.7 billion in taxes from those who appealed successfully to those who didn’t, Newsday found in its Separate and Unequal investigation of the overhaul.
John Chiara, deputy county executive for compliance, said the firms must complete their work by early fall to correct the tax rolls for 2019. Failure to approve the amendments, he said, would waste money already paid to the firms.
If lawmakers extend the contract, Chiara said Curran will sign an executive order stipulating that Nassau will abide by a state law limiting assessment increases to no more than 6 percent per year or 20 percent over five years.
The law, which the county can circumvent by lowering a fraction used in the calculation of assessments, would phase in more accurate assessments over time to prevent sharp tax bill increases.
Chiara said the executive order — which would be signed only if the legislature approves the contract amendments — seeks to balance the needs of those who have grieved in the past with those who have not.
“A phase-in is necessary in order to ensure the economics to each individual resident as opposed to the county as a whole,” he said.
Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said the county needs to abide by the state law. “We cannot have people seeing their assessments jump tens of percentage points,” he said.
But Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said the order would be unfair to some residents. She noted that some residents of minority communities have not grieved their assessments in recent years, and have seen their taxes grow at a higher rate than those who did.
“This executive order, shields some and burdens others,” Bynoe said.