Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks at a press conference...

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran speaks at a press conference during a live tree burn to demonstrate the dangers of holiday decorations at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage on Tuesday November 30, 2021. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Nassau County has frozen residential property values for the second year in a row in an effort to prevent sharp swings in assessments caused by the soaring housing market, Newsday has learned.

Former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who lost to Republican Bruce Blakeman in November, froze property values for the upcoming 2023-24 tax year shortly before she left office last month.

The new values are reflected in the tentative assessment roll published Jan. 3.

In December 2020, Curran also froze assessments for the current 2022-23 tax year, in a move she described as temporary until the heated housing market settled after the pandemic.

"We’ve seen these double-digit increases in the communities and bidding wars with all the people moving from the city to the suburbs," Curran told Newsday at the time. "It’s great news for homeowners, but this dramatic increase in sale prices is going to unfairly skew property assessments."

Curran declined to comment further on Friday.

Real estate experts cautioned that Nassau, by freezing values, could face difficulty in the future in calculating accurate assessments.

Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel, a property appraisal firm based in Manhattan, told Newsday that housing prices may remain high.

"I think the other side of this boom is not a correction — it’s plateauing," Miller said. "I'm not too sure in a year or two it's going to look that much different other than perhaps higher prices, a little bit more inventory and fairly heavy sales."

Miller said two factors were contributing to sky-high home sales in Nassau County: Low interest rates, and a record low inventory of properties on the market.

Last month, the median price of a home sold in Nassau was $645,000, up 6.6% from a year earlier.

Blakeman's acting county Assessor Robin Laveman confirmed the new assessment freeze, which the Curran administration didn't announce.

Property owners began receiving notices of their assessments this month.

"Nassau County has paused property valuation updates due to continued instability of the real estate market," Laveman said in a statement to Newsday.

"Therefore," Laveman said, "unless you have received an assessment reduction, correction of error, physically altered an improvement or petitioned for a map change, your notice should reflect the same property assessment as the previous tax year, as former County Executive Laura Curran again froze the roll for 2023-24 at the 2022-23 level."

Laveman, who was acting assessor in the final months of the Curran administration, said the Blakeman administration was examining Curran's "reassessment and laws associated with its implementation to create a more fair, accurate and equitable system."

County property owners have until March 1 to appeal their assessments with the county Assessment Review Commission, an independent agency that reviews tax challenges.

Assessments are used to calculate school taxes that will be mailed in the fall of 2023, and general taxes to be mailed in early 2024.

Curran reassessed all properties for the 2020-21 tax year after her predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano, froze tax rolls in 2011 in a bid to revise the way Nassau assesses properties.

The freeze lasted for eight years.

During the freeze, hundreds of thousands of properties became significantly undervalued.

Home prices rose by 34% while property values remained frozen, according to an audit the county Comptroller's Office conducted of the review commission.

At the same time, Nassau granted assessment reductions to many homeowners who had appealed their property values.

The mass settlement practice caused a shift in the tax burden from homeowners who won assessment reductions onto filers who did not file appeals.

Paul Dyckes, a real estate appraiser based in Huntington who values properties in Nassau and Suffolk, said with the new freeze, Nassau risks moving "further away from actual market values."

Dyckes told Newsday he doesn't expect the housing market to, "go down; we’re not going to go back to January of 2020."

Dyckes continued: "If you want to freeze" assessments at January 2020 levels, "and the market's gone up 23% since, there's quite a gap."

Assessments, he said, "could be potentially 25% off the mark."

Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, expressed concern about the recent freezes along with the spike in successful tax challenges in the 2021-22 tax year, the year after Curran's countywide reassessment program took effect.

In a statement, Nicolello said the freeze and surging settlement numbers, "will perpetuate tax shifts and inequity."

He said the GOP majority plans to work with the Blakeman administration, "to reform the Department of Assessment and its policies."

Blakeman has said Nassau Comptroller Elaine Phillips, a Republican, will audit the Curran administration's handling of reassessment. Neither has offered a specific fix or policy proposal.

William Biamonte, chief of staff for Democratic county legislators, blamed the Mangano administration for contributing to an inaccurate assessment roll that Curran reformed.

"As home prices skyrocketed during the pandemic, it was appropriate to temporarily freeze the rolls to protect taxpayers," Biamonte said in a statement to Newsday.

"However, we have witnessed the inequities that occur when a frozen roll becomes the status quo," Biamonte said. "Once the housing market stabilizes, the resumption of routine reassessments is essential for ensuring fairness and equity in taxation."

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