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Nassau County pays out $100 million for tax challenges

The payouts since December are part of a plan to wipe out a $360 million backlog of tax settlements.

Property tax attorney Donald Leistman at his office

Property tax attorney Donald Leistman at his office in Mineola on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Nassau County has refunded about $100 million for successful commercial and residential tax challenges since December, closing out tax disputes dating to 2004, new county data show.

The money was paid to lawyers and other representatives for property owners, including law firms, between Dec. 21 and March 4. 

The county has refunded $150 million for tax challenges since early 2018 in the first months of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's term.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority in December approved the county’s request to borrow $100 million, part of a plan to wipe out a $360 million backlog of tax settlements. Eighty percent of refunds are for commercial properties, Curran administration officials have said.

The administration has said it plans to borrow another $200 million for refunds in 2019.

The borrowing requires the approval of the Republican-controlled county legislature and NIFA, which controls Nassau's finances.

"This is money the county has owed to thousands of residents and businesses that our county’s economy depends on, including our cherished Main Street mom and pop shops, for far too long,” Curran, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Top payments went to the following firms, which are to distribute funds to their clients:

  • Koeppel Martone & Leistman, LLC of Mineola, $40.76 million.
  • Herman Katz Cangemi & Clyne LLP of Melville, $18.45 million.
  • Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman of East Meadow, $17.32 million.
  • Schroder & Strom LLP of Mineola, $11.73 million.
  • Cronin, Cronin, Harris & O'Brien PC of Uniondale, $11.66 million.

Donald Leistman, , managing partner for Koeppel Martone & Leistman, said the $40.7 million that went to his firm is for more than 500 property owners. 

“Needless to say, I and my clients are happy that the dam has finally burst here with the county finally making good on its obligation to refund this money to these people who have been overpaying it for years, and waiting very long to get their refunds, even after their cases were resolved,” Leistman said in an interview.

“For several years, it was like a leaky faucet that dripped occasionally,” Leistman said of payments by the county.

Tax firms often take a cut of tax refunds they win for clients.

Nassau paid out $444.9 million from 2013 through 2017 for tax claims, of which $320 million was borrowed, according to data from the county comptroller's office.

Of the refunds paid out since early 2018, $100 million was borrowed and nearly $30 million came from the county operating budget, said Raymond Orlando, deputy Nassau County executive for finance.

The remaining $20.5 million came from a Disputed Assessment Fund that commercial property owners pay into in order to fund commercial tax challenge refunds.

There is $86 million remaining in the fund for claims settled in 2017, and $98 million for settlements in 2018. The fund for 2019 has $40 million, but the money can be used for claims settled in any year, Orlando said.

“We think this is a great victory for taxpayers ultimately, and I think that this shows that our commitment to returning money that taxpayers have been owed for many, many years, including a decade or more, has finally been paid," Orlando said.

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