Nassau County legislature on Monday in Mineola.

Nassau County legislature on Monday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Legislature on Monday unanimously approved the correction of 842 property tax bills after the county Assessment Department acknowledged it had given those homes erroneous tax hikes.

The errors could cost Nassau County $1.55 million in refunds to property owners, according to legislative documents, but already some town officials have begun issuing refunds.

Democratic legislators first raised attention to the issue during a news conference on Oct. 12, shortly after the county published the school tax bills online.

The mistakes occurred after assessors failed to correctly apply an exemption to the 842 homes that nearly all of Nassau's 385,000 residential homeowners are supposed to receive. The exemption, meant to delay large tax hikes under the 2020 countywide reassessment, allows property owners to phase-in valuation changes over five years.

Nassau Acting Assessor Matthew Cronin told legislators on Monday: "This was an error that happened, it was a human error. Once we found this out, I did my best to get ahead of it, and to try to make it as clear to the taxpayer that this was an error."

Cronin said the department would adopt more "quality control measures" and "scrutinize the data even further."

"I do take it personally, and I would like to bring it to zero," Cronin said of the errors. He noted the mistakes on the tax roll represented a minuscule percent of the total countywide tax levy. "But it still means everything to us."

Anyone who overpays on the bill before Nov. 10 can be refunded immediately by town tax receivers, Deputy Assessor Michele Spara told legislators.

Scott Diamond, a Levittown property owner, said he discovered the issue in early October and notified the department of the mistake.

The ranch where he and his wife Linda, both of whom are retired, initially received a school tax increase of $1,200, he said. The newly corrected bill produced a $450 reduction from last year's school tax bill.

The mistakes occurred after officials were changing assessments downward on the 842 homes that had demolition or fire damage. The county put the drop in property value in the wrong column, placing it where the tax break should've been added.

As a result, the homes received a smaller exemption than they were supposed to, the county data show.

Diamond has said he took issue with the county's explanation, since his home had not had any demolition or fire damage.

County officials said they would to look into his case after Nassau Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) asked why Diamond's property had been affected.

Newsday reached out to the county about Diamond's property on Oct. 19, but did not hear back. When asked further on Monday, Chris Boyle, a county spokesman, said only that "human error" was to blame.

"This whole thing was handled very, very poorly," Diamond, 71, told the legislators.

In Oyster Bay Town, 14 property owners overpaid and were already refunded, Brian Nevin, the town spokesman, told Newsday.

In Hempstead Town, three property owners overpaid and were refunded, town spokesman Greg Blower told Newsday.

Eleven taxpayers had overpaid in North Hempstead, Tax Receiver Charles Berman told Newsday, and are due refunds.

Nassau Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) was the first to disclose the issue at a news conference on Oct. 12.

"No homeowner should ever be overcharged on their property taxes the way that these 842 property owners have just experienced. Now that the Legislature has authorized corrections, refunds must be immediately delivered to any homeowner who has overpaid. Thereafter, the administration must conduct an independent investigation into this incident and implement new safeguards that will help to protect taxpayers from errors in the future."

Also Monday, legislators approved $15 million in payments from the Opioid Litigation Settlement Fund to several nonprofits and health care organizations.

The county can distribute $60 million over four years, including $2 million annually to Nassau University Medical Center to expand its detox and rehabilitation program.

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