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Laura Curran vetoes vote on elected Nassau assessor

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on May 8

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on May 8 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Tuesday vetoed a bill to authorize a countywide referendum this fall on whether to make the county assessor's job an elected position.

Democratic minority leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his caucus would support Curran's veto, making it unlikely that a referendum can go forward. Republicans control the chamber by an 11-8 margin, and it takes 13 votes to overturn a county executive veto. 

If voters were to back the switch to an elected assessor, candidates for the job would appear on the ballot in November 2021, when Curran, a Democrat, and all 19 county legislature seats, are up for election.

Republicans filed the referendum bill in March, citing the “error-riddled” countywide reassessment under Assessor David Moog, a Curran appointee. Republicans have called on Moog to resign.

Nassau had an elected assessor until voters made it an appointed position in a 2008 referendum.

In her veto filed with the Legislature Tuesday, Curran said the 2008 vote “ended decades of unqualified politician-assessors overseeing a dysfunctional system.”

Nassau's “recent progress" in overhauling the county assessment system, "would be at risk under an elected assessor who would be pressed to do the popular thing for some residents instead of the right thing for all residents,” Curran said.

"County elected officials should offer solutions built on best practices, and not empty political gestures such as this local law,” Curran said.

Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the presiding officer, said in a statement that an elected assessor would "give Nassau taxpayers greater accountability and transparency and will be responsive to the residents, unlike the appointed assessor."

Nicolello continued, "Unfortunately, this county executive does not trust the people to make this decision. We do. Let the people decide.

Abrahams said the referendum bill fails to require an elected assessor to hold important professional certifications.

"When it comes to getting assessed values correct on taxpayers' homes, the last thing we want is someone who's going to be picked by party bosses,” Abrahams said. “We've had an elected assessor in Nassau. It didn’t work.”

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said although she had concerns about the reassessment rollout, she opposed the Republicans' bill.

“I just don't think having a politician as an assessor is the answer," DeRiggi-Whitton said. "I really think it should be someone who has experience."

Jay Jacobs, Nassau and state Democratic Party chairman, said Republicans were using the elected assessor issue, "to keep the assessment issue in front of the voters through the election cycles. Jacobs said the issue would "boomerang, since they did such a poor job with assessment in the first place.”

Jacobs suggested the GOP strategy was to boost the chances of Don Clavin, the Republican Receiver of Taxes in Hempstead Town, who is challenging Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen and who has campaigned against Curran's reassessment. “I think that the ploy there was to try to confuse people with the two Lauras."

Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said, “I can’t follow the two Laura logic. The people of Nassau County are very sophisticated. They understand the voting system, and they're not going to be tricked by anyone into anything."

If Curran's veto were sustained, it would take "the choice out of the voters' hands, the taxpayer's hands, and I think that’s unfortunate,” Cairo said.

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