Nassau County on Monday corrected errors in assessments of 5,500 properties owned by military veterans and clergy after County Executive Laura Curran filed legislation to fix what could result in $5.6 million in liability for the county.
Because of a computer problem, the properties did not receive all or part of the benefits of an exemption designed to phase-in changes in the tax burden over a five-year period, according to the Curran administration. The exemption is a signature part of Curran's program to reassess all properties countywide.
The issue affected 4,700 properties owned by military veterans, and 800 clergy-owned properties.
Curran's administration filed legislation to make corrections with the Nassau County Legislature Monday after a lengthy hearing in which the assessment errors became public. The bill passed unanimously. County officials say they had been reviewing the matter before the hearing.
The corrections came more than a month after lawmakers voted to approve resolutions to fix hundreds of errors in assessments at some senior housing developments. In those cases, the phase-in exemption was not fully applied, costing the county $2.7 million in refunds to taxpayers.
Under a state law known as the "county guaranty," Nassau is responsible for refunding taxpayers on all overcharges, including on school and town tax bills.
Deputy Nassau County Assessor Robert Miles disclosed the errors Monday in response to questions from Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown).
"Why was this error not identified in the quality control period process in the Department of Assessment?" asked Ferretti, who often has criticized the rollout of Curran's reassessment. "Did someone miss this or is there just no safeguard?"
Miles said a "20-year old computer program caused this mistake."
Miles insisted that despite the failure to apply the exemptions, the assessment roll was "very accurate."
The county said in a statement, "due to a computer programming issue, the County’s older assessment system failed to apply the Taxpayer Protection Plan’s (TPP) 5-year phase-in properly to approximately 4,700 veterans and 800 clergy — resulting in these homeowners not receiving some or all of the benefit of TPP on County and town special district taxes."
Curran called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to extend the deadline for first-half general tax bills, without penalty, from Feb. 10 to March 12.
"This will provide time for the town receivers of taxes to ensure affected homeowners receive corrected bills and bring relief to all taxpayers still impacted by the COVID-19 crisis," a county news release said.
There was "a systematic computer error that did not apply the exemption the way we asked it to," Miles said.
Nassau, "can correct the issue and potentially change the tax bills," before the property owners overpay," Miles said.
"We will work with the town receivers for the solution in terms of creating the corrected bills, and those who overpay and cannot get their money back will receive a refund and receive a corrected bill in the second half," Miles said.
In December, Nassau corrected hundreds of other errors involving the phase-in that affected residents of the Seasons at Seaford, and Mill Pond Acres in Port Washington.
The errors in Seaford stemmed from the incorrect classification of the properties as "new construction."
The phase-in exemption is not applied to new construction because there is no prior property value — and consequently, no difference to make up.
The issue with the Port Washington properties was different. Changes in "section, block and lot" numbers resulted in a technical glitch. Effectively, the tax history of the Port Washington properties, for the purposes of adding the exemption, was wiped out. Without the earlier history, the properties did not qualify for a phase-in.
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said in the case of the 5,500 veterans and clergy properties county legislators would make sure those, "who did pay their taxes, who are due a refund, that those refunds go out as soon as possible."
Legis. Rose Marie Walker (R-Hicksville) complained that, "constantly, throughout this [reassessment] process, the blame is always being shifted to someplace else … Once again, it's a computer error. It's a problem with an antiquated system."
"Bottom line: It's a mess, and we were told over and over again the assessment was very good," Walker said.
Miles said calculation of general tax bills is "very complex," given the more than 400 special taxing districts in Nassau.
The errors with veterans and clergy properties represented, "such a unique circumstance, that it was difficult to find," Miles said.
In December, the Nassau County Legislature approved corrections for hundreds of properties for which a phase-in exemption was not applied, or not fully applied.
The county projects it will need to return $2.7 million in overpayments, largely in Seaford and Port Washington.
On Monday, Nassau disclosed that 4,700 properties owned by military veterans, and 800 clergy-owned properties throughout the county did not receive all or some of the phase-in exemption.
The errors, which county officials corrected Monday, could have made the county liable for about $5.6 million in overpayments, including:
- $3.46 million for properties in Hempstead Town
- $1.52 million for properties in Oyster Bay Town
- $628,033 for North Hempstead properties