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Nassau County readies ‘consumer-friendly’ assessment office

New Nassau assesssor David Moog in the county

New Nassau assesssor David Moog in the county assessment office in Mineola on Thursday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau officials are promising a more “customer-friendly” assessment department, with staffers who will point residents to websites showing comparable local home sales, as the county prepares to release new property assessments for the first time in seven years.

Staff members will travel to communities countywide to explain and justify the new assessment numbers, which, in many cases, are expected to change substantially as officials rely more on market value to set property assessments.

Property owners will get a notice of new values by early November and are expected to receive their tentative assessments in January, said county spokesman Michael Martino.

County officials are planning new satellite offices in up to a half-dozen communities, officials said. Now-empty kiosks in the assessment department offices on Old Country Road in Mineola will have staffers to answer residents’ questions.

Staffers at the main and satellite offices will point residents to comparable home sales — for example, from Multiple Listing Service and Zillow — in an effort to show that the market value of homes was calculated fairly, officials said.

The 120-person assessment staff had been assigned to handle grievances from residents over the past seven years, when a freeze on assessments was in effect.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in March signed an executive order unfreezing the assessment rolls, and two firms are completing a reassessment of all county residential and commercial properties.

Curran’s order also limits assessment hikes on residential properties to 6 percent each year and 20 percent over a five-year period, in line with state law.

Former County Executive Edward Mangano froze the assessment roll in 2011. Thousands of grievances followed, resulting in inequities in tax bills between those who grieved and those who did not.

Assessments on tens of thousands of properties could change substantially as officials work to bring the assessments closer to full market value after years of assessment freezes. There are 424,000 properties in Nassau, of which about 386,000 are residential.

New County Assessor David Moog said property owners are bound to ask: “Why did it change so much?”

He said, “There will be a flood of questions coming in when the re-eval is done.” Moog was a longtime New York City assessment official who helped draft legislation for assessors’ certification and represented a union of more than 120 city assessors.

Moog, who started in the Nassau job Monday, said residents “have a right to know how those changes were made, and if those changes were fair, and what we used to make those values.”

Last week, he toured the department’s offices in Mineola, where 13 front-counter desks, each numbered, were empty. Many of the employee cubicles in the office were vacant, with paperwork stacked in piles.

“With the unfreezing of the assessment roll, the goal is to have a defensible tax roll,” Curran said in an interview. “And the reason why we have such debt in the county has to do with this assessment system and these grievances. So making sure that we can answer people’s questions, answer their concerns and be more customer-friendly is key.”

Chief Deputy County Executive Helena Williams said officials should “quickly be able to say to a resident, ‘Let me show you, your home is similar to this home, this was a recent sale.’ ”

In some cases, “people will see their home value go up as much as 50 percent . . . If they see that their taxes, though, went up 6 percent, they’ll be likely less likely to file a grievance,” Williams said.

County officials said they hope to increase the number of staff members in the assessment office to handle the new work. Officials said they had no estimates yet of the number of new positions or the cost, but said they expected staffing to increase significantly.

Majority Republicans in the county legislature say they’re watching the reassessment process closely.

A legislative committee on Monday approved a GOP measure to require assessment notices to be mailed to property owners.

The notices would have to contain specific information, including the county’s estimate of a property’s full market value and the assessment level. The legislation also would require the notice to explain how property owners can challenge assessments.

Legislative presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) recalled that during the county’s last major reassessment in the early 2000s, the county had a “warehouse in Westbury, where they saw thousands of people.” Then, like now, reassessment required a “massive undertaking in terms of public information.”

“For years now, their assessed value has been frozen,” Nicolello said. “I think people are going to want to find out where the new value comes from.”

But, he said, “Once people get an idea that they’re paying their fair share, I think they’re less likely to challenge their taxes.”

Williams said, “Nobody likes high property taxes. That’s been a challenge in Nassau County for the last 40 years. We want people to understand how their property is being taxed, and at what level. They may not be happy at the end, but they’ll at least know the information.”

NASSAU PROPERTY REASSESSMENT

After years of frozen rolls and a record number of grievances, the county assessment department is gearing up to explain and justify a countywide reassessment.

To explain the new system to property owners, Nassau plans by Sept. 1 to:

  • Create satellite offices throughout the county where residents can seek answers to questions.
  • Show residents comparable home sales on websites such as Zillow or the Multiple Listing Service.
  • Hold public education events and publish new brochures.
  • Staff kiosks and workstations at the assessment department at 240 Old Country Rd. in Mineola.

Source: Nassau County

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