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Nassau lawmakers OK borrowing to hire reassessment firms

Nassau County legislator and presiding officer Richard Nicolello

Nassau County legislator and presiding officer Richard Nicolello during the Nassau County legislature meeting on Monday, March 26, 2018 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Legislature on Monday approved the Curran administration’s request to borrow $2.2 million to pay two firms to reassess all county properties, even as some lawmakers and residents of minority communities claimed the plan would work too slowly to solve the inequities the county aims to correct.

Moments later, County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, signed an executive order limiting assessment increases on residential properties to 6 percent annually, or 20 percent over 5 years, her spokesman Mike Martino said.

“The bonding that passed today allows us to get on a path towards establishing an accurate, fair and defensible tax roll,” Curran said in a statement.

Leaders of some Nassau County communities have recently criticized Curran’s plan, saying it would take too long for homeowners who have won tax appeals in recent years to be brought up to the correct level of assessment. At the same time, homeowners, especially in minority communities, who have rarely grieved their taxes would continue to shoulder the difference, critics of the plan have said. A Newsday investigation last year showed that $1.7 billion in taxes were shifted from those who won tax appeals to those who did not in a six-year period.

“Let’s slow it down,” said Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury). “Why would we consider a plan that would impact our most vulnerable individuals?”

Under Curran’s plan, those who have grieved their taxes extensively and are under-assessed will likely see increases phased in over a gradual period of time. The 6 percent and 20 percent limits abide by a state law aimed at preventing homeowners from receiving sharp assessment hikes, which correlate to higher taxes.

But those who have rarely or never appealed their taxes will be taxed at fair market value much sooner, critics of the plan say. In effect, they say, those homeowners will continue to be burdened with an unfair portion of the county’s tax burden and they want equity to occur sooner.

Bynoe voted against the borrowing — which passed 14-3 — along with Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), and Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont). The Republican-controlled Rules Committee had approved the contracts at its March 12 meeting. Contracts do not require the approval of the entire county legislature.

“We thought this administration would be different,” Tracey Edwards, Long Island’s regional director of the NAACP, told lawmakers. “We never thought this administration . . . would turn around and create another broken system that all of you would own.”

Natalie Borneo, a West Hempstead resident and acting president of the Lakeview chapter of the NAACP, said, “I’m actually dismayed that we have to stand here representing hundreds of thousands of Long Island constituents who will be subject to decisions that will not help them, but hurt them.”

Solages said he and other lawmakers were concerned “that this change in the system may, in fact, have an adverse impact upon areas where residents have not challenged their assessment.”

“We were very encouraged to understand that you were interested in repairing, rectifying, and restoring tax equity to hardworking homeowners and residents in the under-served minority communities who voted in this election,” Borneo said.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) told lawmakers that the debate should be focused on the subject of borrowing. “If we’re going again into the merits of this contract, which already passed, we’re not going to go there,” Nicolello said.

John Chiara, deputy county executive for compliance, said that if the borrowing had not been approved, the county would look for cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“One of her most important goals is making the tax assessment fair to all residents,” Chiara said about Curran. “But that would be a very difficult challenge if the funding didn’t go through today . . . it would further delay the work being done of the contracts, and it would put us against a very challenging deadline to have new tentative rolls for 2019.”

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