Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who campaigned on transparency in government, is using a special exception in state law to provide the minimum amount of disclosure on reassessment notices going out to the county’s 386,000 homeowners.
All other assessing jurisdictions but Nassau and New York City must send notices that give the old and new market values, the old and new assessment and an estimate of the property tax impact after a reassessment.
But Curran officials point to a separate section of state law that allows “a special taxing unit” — a description that applies to Nassau and the city — to disclose “at a minimum,” a property’s new market value, the tentative new assessment and the level of assessment being used. Level of assessment is a fraction of the property’s market value used to calculate property taxes.
Nassau’s notices, which have yet to reach most communities, include only those three numbers. They do not indicate the change in market values and assessments nor estimate tax impact.
Homeowners can try to calculate the difference between old and new by finding equivalent numbers on their most recent property tax bill or by looking up their property on the county’s// website, which was operating sporadically at times on Monday.
“The administration is sending out notices with the least amount of information that is legally possible,” said Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown.) “In my opinion we should be giving the most information we can to our constituents.”
Curran spokesman Michael Martino on Monday said the notices comply with state law. He said the administration did not include prior year assessment data because the county had changed the level of assessment from .25 percent to .10 percent, and the additional information would only confuse property owners.
However, Ferretti pointed out that disclosure notices mailed after the 2003 countywide reassessment included past and proposed values as well as tax impact even though the county also had changed the level of assessment.
Hempstead Tax Receiver Don Clavin said he hosted a tax forum in Levittown Monday attended by about 100 “uptight nervous taxpayers” who were asking questions about reassessment.
When they receive their notices, Clavin said, “every resident will say, ‘What does this mean?’ When it comes to transparency, more is better than less and residents want more.”
The Curran administration had proposed a draft disclosure notice this spring that would have included the old and new information as well as the tax impact.
Some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether information was removed to prevent the new notices from affecting the Nov. 6 election when Democrats hope to take control of the state Senate.
Curran has said she will ask the state Legislature to approve a five-year phase in of the reassessment but has yet to submit legislation.
Republican lawmakers, who control the county legislature, in late September demanded the administration include the estimated tax impact on the disclosure notices, which are required to be mailed on or before Nov. 1. Assessor David Moog testified he could not provide that information until around Nov. 15 — after the election.
“What a coincidence,” said Ferretti. “It really is laughable. The reality is the county executive ran a campaign on corruption and lack of transparency. Unfortunately she has been anything but transparent, specifically on this assessment issue.”
Martino countered there had been multiple drafts of the disclosure notices but the change in the level of assessment, which was recommended by an outside assessment expert, was key to why additional data was not included. “The notice with only essential information required by law keeps us out of election politics,” he said.
Martino said Curran always intended to send a separate tax impact statement and that Moog informed the legislature of that on Oct. 3 — a week after Republicans had submitted their bill requiring disclosure of the tax impact.
Martino said the cost of the additional mailing is about $250,000. He called it, “well worth the expense for property owners to have tax impact information separate and apart” from the disclosure notice.
The legislature unanimously directed Moog this month to send tax impact statements by Nov. 15.
But Martino said that Curran has not signed the legislation while Moog has said that he cannot complete the complicated calculations required until Dec. 15.
“We are outraged by the failure the to provide vital information to taxpayers,” responded Presiding Officer Richard J. Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). “The county executive should stop playing games and sign the Tax Impact Law that has been sitting on her desk for a week.”
Steven Hirsch, a Great Neck homeowner who received the assessment disclosure notice on Friday, said he called the county phone number included in a cover letter and could not reach anyone. He also went onto the county website but could not find the new information online.
Asked if he agreed with the new market value on his home, which is about 75 percent higher than its current value, Hirsch said, “I will gladly sell it to them at the price they say it is worth.”
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), said in an emailed statement, ““We hope the administration as part of their top-to-bottom change of the assessment system finds a way going forward to allow for even greater disclosure and transparency.”