Nassau lawmakers Monday night approved "The Assessment Bill of Rights," a package of Republican-backed bills limiting Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's ability to manage the county assessment department.
Curran has vowed to veto the legislation. Thirteen votes are needed to override a veto and Republicans hold an 11-8 majority in the chamber.
From legislating that the assessor live in Nassau to requiring the office's phones be staffed by a live person, Republicans say the six bills aim to empower Nassau property owners navigating the county's complicated assessment system.
But Democrats have derided the proposal as a political stunt aimed at dragging out drama over the county's controversial reassessment ahead of the fall's legislative and town races.
The bills passed the legislature on party line votes.
The bills would:
- Require Nassau's assessor to live in Nassau County. Curran hired David Moog, of Sunnyside, Queens, in June 2018. Republican county lawmakers have called for his resignation, citing concern about the department's handling of reassessment.
- Require the county assessment department to staff phone lines with live operators. Republican legislators have said too many calls are sent to voicemail, and the department has struggled to fill open vacancies.
- Prevent county assessment department inspectors from reviewing a section of the home that is not subject to a tax challenge.
- Limit the assessor's ability to change the level of assessment of homes.
- Mandate that the county executive publish online, and mail tax impact notices, projecting the impact of reassessment by Oct. 15, 2019. Deputy County Attorney Michael Kelly said the mailing would cost $240,000 and three weeks is an impractical deadline.
- Require the county assessor to hold hearings throughout Nassau.
Nassau Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said legislation "generally came up from comments, statements things that residents have told us."
Democrats and Republicans bickered over each of the six proposals and debated them one by one over three hours.
Talk grew tense during debate over whether public hearings featuring the county assessor should be required, as written in the Republican legislation. Moog said the department was planning 19 public forums but individual and confidential one-on-one sessions are helpful to residents.
Moog noted that people feel less comfortable at open forums. Moog said he would "be at" the 19 community forums, but Nicolello wanted assurances the assessor would lead them.
"Your approach is as disrespectful to those residents as it could possibly be," Nicolello said to Moog. "…you don't understand the very nature of democracy then."
Moog told Nicolello, "you're basically trying to tie me up all year long, trying to do town halls and discussions…there's more outreach done in this county than in almost any other county."
Moog later apologized to the legislature for the "tie up" remark.
During the debate over the meeting requirement, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) told the Republican lawmakers: "This reeks of politics…you never cared about this stuff for 10 years."
Pointing out that elections for all 19 legislators are less than two months away, Abrahams said: "Get ready, the circus is here."
Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in a statement: "The GOP Majority did nothing but watch as the Mangano Administration corrupted the County’s assessment system, deceiving taxpayers and causing irreparable damage. Their package of assessment legislation is not meant to offer real solutions or relief — these are political schemes intended to mislead and instill fear in taxpayers and distract from their decade of inaction."
Geed said Curran plans to veto the legislation "as it’s nothing more than a preelection political stunt."
Also Monday, the Nassau Legislature:
- Approved legislation to boost awareness of food allergies in restaurants, including training for restaurant employees who would serve as "food safety officers." The cost to train employees would be borne by the county. The bill would require restaurants to hang signs identifying the eight major food allergens, steps that an employee should take if a customer says he or she has a food allergy, and a list of allergy symptoms.
- Confirmed Lionel Chitty to serve as executive director of the Office of Minority Affairs, and Nancy Nunziata as commissioner of the Social Services Department.