Nassau County legislator John Ferretti Introduced "Benny's Law" after his one-year-old...

Nassau County legislator John Ferretti Introduced "Benny's Law" after his one-year-old Tibetan Terrier Benny was attacked by a neighbor's dog, He is shown here at Eisenhower Park on Feb. 8 in East Meadow. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A split Nassau legislature on Monday approved a bill to ask county voters in a June referendum whether they are in favor of an elected assessor.

All 11 members of the Republican majority caucus voted in favor while all 8 Democrats opposed the legislation. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran plans to reject the bill in her first veto of 2021. To override Curran's veto, Republicans would need a supermajority of 13, which is considered unlikely.

A Curran spokeswoman said Republicans were "deliberately stalling on the necessary appointments of well-qualified candidates" Curran appointed to lead the office, and "undercut the success of the Department of Assessment."

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said if the bill withstood the county executive's veto and voters decided in favor of an elected position, they could select from assessor candidates in the November election. The assessor's term would be four years, he said.

"This is a good government initiative," said Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "An elected assessor would be more responsive to the people."

This is the second attempt by Republicans to create an elected assessor position, arguing the person in charge of the county's Office of Assessment should be held accountable by voters and the process of assessing the more than 400,000 county properties for tax purposes would be more transparent.

In 2019, Republicans failed to get the votes needed to override Curran's veto of an elected assessor referendum bill. Lawmakers on both sides made many of the same arguments as they did two years ago, noting the countywide reassessment has been difficult and fraught with error.

Democrats continue to reject the idea of an elected assessor's post saying it would unnecessarily inject partisanship into an office that is supposed to create property tax fairness.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) called the Republicans' proposal "a political stunt," firing back at several Republican legislators who accused Democrats of not trusting voters to decide on the assessor position.

"I find it astonishing that we talk about trust. I trust that the people see right through this as a political stunt," Abrahams said. "Well, I trust that this is a way to damage the county executive and not to fix the problem … If this was such a great idea why didn't you bring it up during the previous administration?"

Abrahams and other Democrats blamed the "unjustified refunds" for many of those who filed tax grievances before the reassessment for much of the confusion in the process and said they believed it would get better as time went on.

For about 20 years, Nassau's assessor has been appointed by the county executive. The county's tax rolls were frozen for nearly a decade under former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.

Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin who took office in 2018 and is running for reelection in November, originally pledged to rebalance a property tax system that benefited those who challenged their tax bills. But late last year she froze the rolls again.

Legis. John Ferretti (R-Levittown) earlier this month filed a lawsuit against the Curran administration because tax bills did not disclose homeowners' full refund amount for overpayment after reassessment. He said to Democrats: "I don't know what you guys are so scared of? … What is the down side to letting the residents having a voice in this process?"

Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) asked whether they were going to make the commissioners or heads of other county government departments elected positions as well. He said it would be "too simplistic" to conclude any of the reassessment missteps would not have occurred if the assessor was elected.

"When you start politicizing department heads it's a slippery slope to go down," Drucker said.

Also on Monday legislators unanimously approved a bill that would set up a county "dangerous dog" registry and two other items that amend the Nassau Coliseum lease agreement.

Under "Benny's Law," if a judge determines a dog meets the "dangerous dog" threshold, the owners must mail the judicial order to neighbors within a 1,000-foot radius, or about six blocks, to ensure they know of the potential threat. Nassau County police and the SPCA would enforce the law. Violators would be fined $500, and an additional $100 each day thereafter that they don't comply with the law.

The Coliseum lease amendments would provide the leaseholder with rent relief for up to six months after the state fully lifts restrictions on capacity at large entertainment venues and protect the county from potential lawsuits against the leaseholder.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. The statement was from a Curran spokeswoman.

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