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Nassau audit hits 'questionable' tax exemptions

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, center, releases an

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, center, releases an audit finding on Thursday as homeowners Scott and Ellie Musmeci look on. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman said "questionable" property tax exemptions for some homeowners resulted in a shift of tens of millions of dollars in taxes onto other taxpayers.

In the 2015-2016 tax year alone, $33 million in taxes was shifted onto other property owners, said the audit, which covered the period from 2013 through 2016.

The average taxpayer paid $267 more due to the shift in tax burden during the audit period, the report said. 

According to the comptroller's office, 72 percent of all properties in the county receive at least one property tax exemption, with $95 billion — 34 percent of county property value — ultimately removed from the tax base.

Schnirman, a Democrat, said the prior administration of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano "for years allowed a broken exemption system to shift millions of dollars worth of taxes for homes that didn't deserve tax breaks, to the rest of us."

According to the audit:

  • More than 8,400 veteran exemptions lacked adequate information about the recipient's dates of military service. For example, 91 exemptions listed military service dates before 1901.
  • There were inadequate controls on the county's "ADAPT" computer system used by assessment to log the exemptions, boosting the risk of fraud. "Users had inappropriate access: over 100 users had the ability to edit each other's work which could impact tax shifts," the audit said.
  • The county did not have a state certified assessor, as required by law. Mangano kept an "acting assessor" on board.
  • From 2008 to 2017, there were 670 cases in which the county awarded exemptions with codes New York State couldn't identify. The value of those properties was worth more than $923 million.
  • Due to Nassau's low level of assessment, more than $272 million in annual taxable value on homes owned by the clergy was removed from the tax base.

The comptroller's office recommended that county officials improve verification procedures, provide better staff and institute digital fingerprinting for assessment employees.

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