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Laura Curran cuts assessment levels for 386,000 residential properties

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks in Bethpage

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks in Bethpage on on July 12. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed an executive order Wednesday sharply reducing the level of assessment for 386,000 residential properties, a move that could raise taxes for many who have challenged their assessments but reduce tax bills for some who haven't.

Curran, a Democrat, said the order dropping the level to .10 percent will restore accuracy to the property tax rolls and chip away at the disparity generated by years of homeowner challenges to tax bills that shifted the burden onto taxpayers who did not grieve.

“Let’s be clear: This is going to bring about changes for all taxpayers and property owners,” Curran said at a news conference where she signed the order. 

But the order provoked an outcry from majority Republican legislators, who said they had believed the administration would stick to an earlier plan to employ a higher rate, along with a 6 percent cap to cushion the blow of sharp assessment increases.

Curran had planned initially to keep the assessed value level at .25 percent.  But a study commissioned by county Assessor David Moog showed that,  at that level, Nassau would not be able to defend its own tax rolls when homeowners grieve their assessments in court.

The level of assessment, used to compute tax bills, is a fraction of the market value of the property.

Since 2011, assessments have been frozen and hundreds of thousands of reductions have been awarded even as property values have gone up. As a result — even though the county's ratio has been frozen at .25 percent during that period — the average county home is now assessed much less than .25 percent of its actual worth.

Earlier this year, Newsday estimated that property owners who have appealed successfully since 2010 saved $448 million in the most recent complete tax year alone.

Had the county not awarded any of those reductions, the tax bills of those who appealed successfully would have been an average of about $1,800 higher while those who were not awarded them would have been about $2,500 lower.

Curran on Wednesday called for state legislation enabling the county to phase-in the resulting assessment increases over a five-year period.

Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the new level of assessment will raise taxes for more homeowners and decrease their chances of successfully challenging the county in court.

Under the higher assessment ratio, more homeowners were protected by a 6 percent state cap, Nicolello said.

“By manipulating the ratio, they are eliminating the cap,” Nicolello said in an interview. “Now your assessments can go up 20 percent, it could go up 50 percent, it could go up 100 percent. So, many, many taxpayers are going to get . . .  massive increases in taxes." 

Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said during a Rules Committee meeting that the legislature was "sandbagged" by the administration. He said officials were trying to bring residents up to market value too quickly and effectively bypassing the state law setting a 6 percent cap on annual increases or a limit of 20 percent over five years.

 “What the county executive is doing is bypassing the protection that is afforded by the 6-20 rule and in place of that, the county executive is putting in place a system whereby she hopes that the state legislature will replace those protections by a five year phase-in,” Rhoads said.

Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said, "The details and the course of implementation seem at best to be unclear. We have a very simple concern and position: If this adversely impacts taxpayers, we cannot support it."

Curran said at the news conference, "I said it would be difficult at times and painful. But I am committed to getting this right.”

 Oyster Bay Town Tax Receiver James Stefanich said that under Curran’s order, "we’re going to see big tax increases, relatively speaking. The same amount of money is being raised, but the burden on the taxpayer is being shifted around. It will have a negative impact on people with higher value properties.”

Nicolello warned that the county assessment department "better be ready for what’s coming. If not, then this administration has a tremendous problem. . . . If people can’t get answers to the questions of what’s going to happen to their taxes, they're going to be irate, and we’re going to be irate. That’s the one thing they are entitled to from their government."

With Matt Clark and Celeste Hadrick

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