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Laura Curran: Hempstead Town 'refusing to negotiate' over federal virus aid

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran at a news

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran at a news conference on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran accused Hempstead Town for having "refused to negotiate" over the county's request for $50 million of the money the town has received in federal coronavirus aid.

In August, Curran asked Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin to provide Nassau with $49.5 million to cover county police services Curran said the county had provided in the town during the coronavirus pandemic.

Curran and Clavin have been tussling over federal pandemic aid since earlier this year, when Hempstead received $133 million in CARES Act funding while Nassau, with nearly twice the population, got $103 million.

The disparate treatment of the town and county resulted from language in the federal law that allowed municipalities with at least 500,000 residents to apply for a portion of the $150 billion in CARES Act money. Hempstead was the only town in the nation to receive the pandemic aid.

The deadline to disburse the funds is Dec. 30, according to U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.

Curran, a Democrat, and Clavin, a Republican, had so far kept their talks private.

But on Monday, Curran made her most pointed plea yet for the funds during a news conference about coronavirus cases in Nassau.

Curran made her comments after Clavin and Hempstead Tax Receiver Jeanine Driscoll had criticized Curran's countywide property reassessment.

"I would like to remind everyone, meanwhile, that the Town of Hempstead is sitting on $100 million of federal money in pandemic relief funds, which they have no clear plan in how to spend," Curran said Monday.

"And by the way, the deadline for spending it is at the end of this year, and [Hempstead officials] have refused to negotiate with the county to give a portion of the money to our first responders, Department of Health, and other employees who have been on the front lines of this pandemic and serve the residents of Nassau County, and the Town of Hempstead," Curran said.

Clavin on Tuesday said his comments "were directed at the county assessor … I never said anything about the county executive."

Clavin said he had a "great working relationship" with Curran. He noted that the town had provided a $2 million share of its CARES Act funding to the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, for distribution of personal protective equipment kits to small businesses.

Town officials also noted they have provided funds to Nassau University Medical Center, whose $173 million debt is backed by Nassau County, and Nassau Community College. The county subsidizes the college and approves its budget.

On Monday, Driscoll and Clavin asserted that a number of tax bills, which are sent by Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay towns to residents based on county data, would have to be corrected.

County officials say there are 13,405 assessment challenges that could not be resolved before the tax roll was set, and those cases are working their way through the court system. The county is responsible for paying refunds to homeowners in the cases it loses.

This year, more than 80,000 taxpayers challenged their assessments in a process known as "small claims assessment review." In past years, the number was significantly lower because the county Assessment Review Commission, which is first to decide on tax challenges, was granting automatic reductions to large numbers of filers.

In a news release, Driscoll and Clavin said the county was "knowingly" set to publish "incorrect" tax bills to residents.

"We’re going to send out these bills, and we don’t know which will have to be corrected," Driscoll said in an interview.

County officials say they expect the cases to be completed by March 1. The second half property tax bills will incorporate tax refunds in the new bill.

Tax receivers will not have to issue new notices, according to the county.

Curran accused Republicans of putting out "misinformation."

"In a time when as a nation, as a world, we are overwhelmed with misinformation, this is just another batch of deceitful misinformation aimed to scare and mislead our residents," Curran said Monday.

"Every taxpayer has the right to grieve their taxes, and I fully and 100% defend and uphold that right," Curran said. "Upon the courts reopening, we’ve been full steam ahead to ensure our residents have access to appropriate adjustments."

Curran continued: "For the supervisor and for the receiver of taxes to politicize the pandemic in this way is irresponsible, and it’s embarrassing for them."

With Robert Brodsky

The Nassau County executive wants the town to reimburse the county for $50 million in county police costs during the pandemic.

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