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Long IslandPolitics

Laura Curran's aides caught off-guard on live mic during hearing 

Officials had huddled to develop a response after a lawmaker said the county executive appeared "ready to renege" on a pledge to phase in new assessment values.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is seen May

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is seen May 22. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau administration officials were caught on a live microphone Wednesday  discussing how long they could delay a key component for assessing single-family homes after a lawmaker complained that County Executive Laura Curran appeared “ready to renege” on a promise to phase in new values for a new property tax reassessment.

At a legislative committee meeting, Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) attempted to question County Assessor David Moog about reports that Curran will change the “level of assessment” for the new values expected to be released Jan. 2.

The level of assessment, which is an assessment’s percentage of market value, is a key component for setting assessments and calculating property tax bills. Curran had pledged to keep the ratio at .25 percent. 

Moog said he could not comment because an outside expert’s ratio report was not yet complete.

“Time is running short,” Kopel responded. “This is grossly unfair to our constituents. We need time to analyze this, to think about it, to talk about it.”

After Kopel demanded to know when the report would be available, Moog huddled with Deputy County Attorney Robert Miles and Anthony Arcuri, an assessment supervisor, near the lectern microphone.

Though not audible in the legislative chambers, their whispers were broadcast on the live web feed.

While it wasn't clear who said what, snippets of the conversation included: “The tentative roll doesn’t go final until December. . . . The [level of assessment] doesn’t have to be provided until technically in December. Think about it. We don’t have to set the LOA until December when the new roll comes out.” 

Kopel interrupted, “Shouldn’t this be on the record?”

Moog responded, “Sorry for the delay. We have disagreement on dates. We are working as quickly as possible.”

On Thursday, Kopel said he didn’t know if the three didn’t have answers about assessment ratio or were trying to stonewall him. “It’s certainly their job to know the answers and it’s their job to respond.”

Curran spokesman Michael Martino said, “There is absolutely no desire to stall any effort to fix the corrupt assessment system that continues to rob taxpayers. On the contrary, the county executive wants to move forward with her assessment reforms immediately.”

Martino said the report was commissioned when Curran realized her attempts to fix the assessment  system “would be severely hampered by the existing ratio.”  He declined to identify the outside expert or describe the scope of the report.

Kopel said, “We all agree everyone wants a good roll. That’s not a controversial thing to say. Almost everyone wants to phase things in so there is not a sticker shock. . . . That was the intent and purpose of the state law.” 

The Republican legislative majority agreed to borrow $2.1 million to pay for the reassessment in return for a promise by Curran that she would maintain the .25 assessment ratio and abide by a state law that limits assessment increases to 6 percent a year or 20 percent over five years.

In Nassau’s 2003 countywide reassessment, the county manipulated the level of assessment to avoid the state limits. But that resulted in sudden, steep tax increases for many homeowners whose properties had been undervalued for years.

The ratio reduction, however, helped reduce taxes for homeowners, particularly in minority communities, whose properties had been overassessed.

At the meeting Kopel said, “We had a promise we thought from the administration to adhere to certain standards and to not saddle many, many people with horrendous increases and have this done as a gradual process. It sounds like the administration is ready to renege on its promise.”

Martino said Curran “made a promise to the taxpayers of Nassau County that she would fix this corrupt system. That is a promise she is not going to renege on.”

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