Homeowners in five Nassau villages were feeling sticker shock last month when the county mistakenly overcharged them by hundreds of dollars on their 2018 sewer tax bills because of an error in last year’s budget.
Residents of Rockville Centre, Hempstead, Freeport, Garden City and Mineola received their county property tax bills for the first half of 2018 and saw a hike on the sewer disposal line of just under 75 percent.
The county was supposed to impose a 0.8 percent sewer tax increase on all Nassau residents, but an accounting error passed the entire costs — totaling $9.28 million — onto just the residents of the five villages. For some homeowners, the hike amounted to an increase of more than $600.
On Monday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwin Democrat who took office Jan. 1, will hold a news conference in Mineola to announce the results of an accounting review launched last month on the errors, which originated in former County Executive Edward Mangano’s 2017 budget.
Curran is expected to ask the GOP-controlled county Legislature to pass a bill issuing refunds to residents who already paid their taxes — a move that officials concede will blow a nearly $9.3 million hole in the county budget.
Chris Squeri, 45, of Freeport, said his sewer taxes increased about 78 percent from $210 to $374.
“It’s upsetting,” said Squeri, who owns and operates marinas. “That increase could be an electric bill. People don’t always look at their tax bill, but it’s a lesson to always be looking.”
Among those overcharged were thousands of village homeowners who flooded government offices in late December to pay their 2018 property taxes in full to utilize deductions that are expiring because of new federal tax code changes.
“We knew we were inheriting a mess,” Curran said. “As we move forward we will address each problem we find as quickly as possible. I will count on bipartisan support from the legislature to correct the sewer charges.”
The county will issue a corrected tax bill for second-half payments, while most homeowners who were undercharged this year will see an upward adjustment on next year’s bill, officials said.
The refunds would be paid from the county’s sewer funds, although it is unclear how the officials plan to close the budget hole.
Mangano, a Bethpage Republican who did not seek a third term as he fights federal corruption charges, in September proposed a flat fee increase to the property tax levy of 0.8 percent to replenish the sewer system, which is running low on reserves. The impact to county homeowners was expected to be $10 to $15 — the first hike in sewer taxes in nearly a decade.
Documents obtained by Newsday show the Office of Management and Budget made an error in late October calculating the tax levy while preparing legislative amendments to the county budget.
Those village residents pay only sewer disposal taxes, while the rest of the county also pays for sewer collection and stormwater fees.
Legis. Debra Mule (D-Freeport), among the first to discover the overcharges, attributed the mistake to “unfortunate human error. I have no reason to believe there was any malfeasance here.”
Frank Moroney, spokesman for the Legislature’s Republican majority, said his caucus was “exploring various ways to make sure those who were overcharged are made whole.”
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said most residents were not aware of the mistake because their taxes are incorporated into their mortgage payments.
“This is significant money,” said Kennedy, who was overcharged by nearly $250. “It’s a serious hardship for many residents.”
Julie Scully, a Rockville Centre spokeswoman, said refunds should go out immediately. “We have full confidence that County Executive Curran will get to the bottom of this,” Scully said.
Curran on Monday is to order the management and budget office to modernize its budgeting systems and institute internal controls to prevent similar mistakes from occurring again.
“The taxpayers of Nassau County deserve competence in every aspect of their local government,” Curran said. “We intend to provide it.”