Outrage boiled over Wednesday night as hundreds of people packed into a Nassau County legislative hearing and overflow rooms in Mineola to air grievances over a countywide reassessment that is expected to produce property tax increases for more than half the county’s homeowners and reductions for the rest.
A long line snaked out the door of the county's executive and legislative chambers, and officials were forced to move the overflow crowd into other rooms, including police headquarters next door, where they watched on a video screen.
The five-hour hearing ended at 12:18 a.m. Thursday.
According to county data, the reassessment will result in tax increases for 52 percent of homeowners, while 48 percent will see reductions. About 700 people attended the hearing, said Frank Moroney, a spokesman for Republican majority lawmakers.
Frances DiGiovanni, 72, of Levittown, spoke with her husband, who was in a wheelchair. "We have lived in our community all our lives," she said.
DiGiovanni, facing an $1,800 increase, according to online records, spoke of the "distress" she was experiencing over the expected tax hike "on our very, very small Levittown house. . . . We understand the need for fairness. However, this increase will hurt us tremendously as we struggle to live in our community, which we both love."
“I am outraged and frightened over the increases," she said. "I am not looking to move because of tax increases."
Some were more understanding of the county's reassessment efforts.
Cynthia Kouril, 60, a Democratic activist attorney from Glen Cove, said, "The reality is [Nassau County Executive] Laura Curran didn't cause this problem." Kouril said many residents were "enjoying an artificially low tax rate ... they enjoyed a privilege that their neighbors had to pay higher taxes for."
Chandra Ortiz, of Baldwin, said: "It is equally unfair for any of us to be grossly under or over assessed."
Many others complained their homes were overvalued under reassessment, and said might to have to move out of Nassau.
"I told my wife . . . if you don't want to move with me, we'll get divorced, and we split," said Jeffrey Angelino, 52, of East Meadow.
Eric Berliner, 59, a real estate attorney from Sands Point, said the market value of his home was projected to rise from $3.489 million to $9.523 million, between the 2017-18 and 2020-21 tax years. His total taxes are expected to rise from $81,730.69 to $122,703.12.
"It's fraudulent; it's criminal," Berliner said, adding that he has retained an appraiser to investigate.
"We will stay here all night. . . . We're going to be here for quite a while," Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said at the start of the meeting. "This is easily the largest meeting we've had at the legislature since the inception of the legislature. . . . To get hundreds of members of the public to come to a meeting is extraordinary, and it's because this is an extraordinary issue."
Nicolello said he understands that because the rolls had been frozen in 2011 by the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and grievances were settled en masse, "the values are no longer accurate."
But Nicolello said reassessment, "must be done right, it must be done correctly."
He said the "number one comment I'm getting is if I can sell my house at what the county values it, I will sell it tomorrow," Nicolello said, to laughter from the audience.
He said he worried that tax increases could "send people over the edge, and it will be the last straw for some of them."
"We are concerned that we had in the past many, many people who had become underassessed. We are concerned that we will now go to the opposite extreme that we will have many, many people who are overassessed," Nicolello said.
Some residents walked in with glossy placards depicting Monopoly boards, the properties representing lawmakers and Republican committee clubs. The middle of the board reads "Why Are Property Taxes So High & The Assessment System Such A Mess?" An orange Chance card below it reads, "Because Republican Elected Officials Were Bought Off With Campaign Contributions?"
The placards did not identify their source.
Nassau Assessor David Moog defended the assessment roll, and told lawmakers, "We stand by the assessment roll and all the interactions and communications we have had with thousand of taxpayers at our office and satellite offices."
He was applauded, and booed, by audience members.
He said it was "not a valid option" to use the .25 percent level of assessment — the percentage of market value at which homes are assessed. In September, Curran, a Democrat, lowered the fraction to .10 percent in an effort to achieve a more accurate roll and erase inequities in the tax burden caused when taxpayers who grieved shifted some of the burden onto those who did not.
The .25 percent ratio would have done little to erase the inequities, administration officials have said.
That move roiled lawmakers who fear that residents will see much greater swings in tax bills because they will be assessed much closer to market value.
Curran said in an interview before the meeting. “I am expecting that the legislators will hear some anger. I've certainly heard it." She added that she hoped that GOP majority legislators "answer why they've allowed a frozen tax roll . . . for eight years."
"What was their solution to half of their homeowners who have been overpaying all those years? I've heard no solutions coming from that group of people," she said.