Nassau legislators gave preliminary approval to an "Assessment Bill of Rights" Monday night, a slew of Republican-backed bills that impose restrictions on the authority of County Executive Laura Curran and her assessment department.
From requiring county assessment phones be answered by a live person, to a rule that assessors reside in Nassau, Republicans said the bills would empower the sometimes befuddled resident navigating the county's perplexing property assessment system.
But Democrats have opposed the package as a political ploy to micromanage the department and exploit the thorny subject of assessment for political gain.
The full legislature will consider the proposal at its Sept. 23 meeting.
During Monday night's session, Republican lawmakers engaged in testy exchanges with representatives of the county assessment department.
"This is simply an administration that does not want to inform its residents because you're concerned about the public's reaction," Nicolello said.
"We're not trying to hide anything," said Mary Brower, acting chief deputy assessor, at one point as Republicans pressed County Executive Laura Curran to mail taxpayers projections of changes to their tax bills by Oct. 15. County officials said the deadline was impossible to meet.
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the "Bill of Rights" was a direct response to a series of missteps from the Curran administration over the past year and a half.
“All of these came as a result of meeting with literally thousands of residents, and each of these percolated up about issues that residents wanted to address," Nicolello said.
Curran expressed dismay at the proposal.
“This package of assessment legislation filed by the GOP Majority is a political stunt and the height of hypocrisy. The GOP Majority fiddled while [former Republican County Executive Edward] Mangano burned the assessment system to the ground,” Curran said in a statement Monday night. “Instead of political shenanigans in an election year, the GOP Majority has a responsibility to our taxpayers."
Curran also urged Republicans to immediately pass a county bill that would phase in the impact of reassessment on the tax burden over a five-year period.
Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) criticized Republicans during the hearing for not having consulted with the assessment department before filing their bills. "We work with the department before we clock [a bill] in, not after."
In a statement, Abrahams said, "Their so-called Assessment Bill of Rights is not designed to provide real relief — it's designed to scare and mislead taxpayers. I'm confident residents will see through their pre-election antics."
The six bills would:
- Require the Assessor to live in Nassau County.
- Mandate the assessment department have a live person available to answer the phones.
- Bar inspectors from the assessment department from reviewing portions of a home that are not subject to a challenge.
- Limit the county assessor's ability to change the level of assessment at which residential properties are assessed.
- Mandate the county executive publish tax impact notices projecting the impact of reassessment by Oct. 15, 2019.
- Mandate that the county assessor hold hearings throughout the county. (Last year, Curran hired David Moog, of Sunnyside, to lead the department).
Republicans complained that due to low staffing levels, too many phone calls to the assessment department were directed to voicemail. Nicolello said the administration was "openly hostile and has some contempt for its residents.”
Mike Santeramo, deputy county executive for government relations and communications, wrote in a letter to legislative leaders last week that assessment department staff "never enter a home without the permission of the homeowner absent a warrant because doing so would be a Fourth Amendment violation. The County should focus its legislative powers instead on other areas of true concern to residents."
But Nicolello said he has heard that inspectors were making full inspections. "Assessors are a little like the IRS ... If I call the department of assessment, they're going to do a full colonoscopy on my house, and I don't want that to happen."
Santeramo wrote that the residency requirement "is a direct attempt to curtail Executive Branch authority by unduly restricting the County Executive's ability to recruit and appoint the most qualified Assessor possible." Santeramo wrote that only five to seven people live in Nassau with a "desired," but not required credential — certification from the Institute of Assessing Officers.
The assessment issue has taken a leading role in county legislative and town races. All 19 legislators are up for re-election this fall. Nicolello noted that Hempstead Tax Receiver Don Clavin is mailing out to residents online tax impact notices that he said the county should have mailed to residents. Clavin, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen in the November town race.
The full Nassau Legislature voted to change the name of Terrell Avenue Park in Oceanside to Det. Luis Alvarez Memorial Park. Alvarez, 53, died June 29 of colorectal cancer, weeks after his congressional testimony in support of permanently extending the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
The legislature approved opening a mental health office for police and correction officers through a health and wellness division, and a local law to prohibit harassment against police officers.
The legislature also advanced Curran's pick for executive director of the Office of Minority Affairs, Lionel Chitty.