Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman announced plans Wednesday to audit the county commission that rules on commercial and residential property tax grievances, responding to what he said was growing public unhappiness with the county’s assessments.
“In light of the many issues residents are having with their assessments, we are eager to take a close look at the Assessment Review Commission’s policies, procedures and practices,” Schnirman said.
The Democrat who was elected last year said those property owner complaints in part stemmed from the findings of Newsday’s Separate and Unequal investigation of the tax system overhaul implemented by former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano in 2010. The investigation found that Mangano’s decision to award assessment reductions in 78 percent of grievances reversed years of effort to improve the accuracy and fairness of the county’s assessments.
“As I travelled the county over the last year, people were irate about the concept of separate and unequal,” Schnirman said, “and I think that there is a real sense that there is something going wrong here.”
Schnirman said the full scope of the audit will be determined once auditors have more information from the commission. The plan, he said, is to examine the grievance process and determine if grievances have been accurately resolved in a timely fashion.
In particular, Schnirman noted that the audit will examine whether there is a substantial difference in the outcomes of those who filed a grievance with or without a tax appeal firm. Newsday’s investigation revealed that thousands of taxpayers who hired a large politically connected tax appeal firm to file grievances received the same percentage reductions that were larger than those received by thousands of similarly situated taxpayers who filed on their own or with a smaller firm.
As with any audit, Schnirman said, any uncovered evidence of criminal activity would be submitted to the proper authorities. However, Comptroller’s Office spokesman Robert Busweiler stressed that the audit, which is initially expected to take up to 9 months, is a collaborative effort with the Assessment Review Commission.
“We are viewing this as something that can be really beneficial to [the commission] and the county as a whole,” Busweiler said. “We think the work is going to really uncover a lot of areas where improvements can be made, and that is what we are really shooting for.”
County spokesman Michael Martino said the commission had no comment on the audit.
The audit is being conducted independently of County Executive Laura Curran’s office’s reassessment of all county property by January 2019.
That reassessment began under the Mangano administration, which hired two Mineola-based contractors to begin the work for $3.8 million, Standard Valuation Services and Michael Haberman Associates. Curran will seek approval from county legislators to have the contracts, which expired last year, extended and increased by $2.6 million so the contractors can finish this year.