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GOP wants Nassau to disclose all electronic data on assessments

 "It is a fundamental right of taxpayers to know how their taxes are determined," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello of the Nassau County Legislature. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Majority Republicans in the Nassau County legislature filed a bill Monday requiring the county to disclose all electronic data — including algorithms, formulas, and computer codes — used to determine home values.

The bill follows a legal tussle between county officials and Lynbook homeowner Dennis Duffy, who had filed records requests to find out the formula used to  determine assessments on individual homes. The county cited a "trade secret" exemption in denying his requests. 

Duffy sued the county. Late last month, Nassau dropped its claim that the disclosure was exempt because it was a "trade secret." A county lawyer provided 239 pages of code, in PDF format, identifying “the algorithms for the reassessment." 

Deputy County Attorney Andrew Scott cited "some misconceptions or misunderstandings" about Duffy's original records request that sought the algorithm.

But some data experts said they could not run the code because some of the files were missing.

The formula was used to reassess all county properties last year, for the 2020-21 tax roll, the first reassessment in nearly a decade.

The bill, to be heard by the county legislature in July and August, requires the Department of Assessment to disclose, within 5 days of a records request, all electronic data files, algorithms, codes, formulas, scripts, and programs used to calculate assessed values.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said during a news conference Monday in Mineola, “it is a fundamental right of taxpayers to know how their taxes are determined."

He said the methods used in computer modeling are "not known to the public" and that it’s "impossible" for residents to understand neighborhood adjustment factors — a variable that can boost or reduce home calculations based on the home's particular neighborhood.

Republican lawmakers stood near a poster with lines of computer code under the headline "UNDERSTAND?" in big red type. Democrats responded by criticizing Republicans for failing to call a bill, known as the "Taxpayer Protection Plan," that would spread assessment changes over a five-year period. Republicans said they have until summer 2020 to pass that bill and have sought more review of the effects of the reassessment.

Christine Geed, a spokeswoman for County Executive Laura Curran, said Standard Valuation Services, the Mineola-based appraising company that conducted the residential reassessment, "has the right to protect its intellectual property. SVS cooperated by producing the computer files which were delivered to Mr. Duffy."

She blamed Republicans for "using" Duffy to avoid passing the Taxpayer Protection Plan. "We’re committed to fixing the mess of the assessment system and creating fairness for all residents. This is transparency. We are confident in the work of our vendors to produce more fair and accurate home values," Geed said, adding that Nicolello is invited to meet with SVS.

Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) said in a statement, "While we support meaningful efforts to add transparency to the assessment process, this is just more of the same from a Republican Majority that is doing everything it can to delay the five-year phase-in and avoid confronting its complicity in the Mangano assessment scheme."

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