Nassau homeowners will get an extra month to pay school property tax bills this year after the state gave the county more time to resolve challenges to new home values before it finalizes the assessment roll and towns have to mail out tax bills.
This fall, property owners will receive school tax bills in November, rather than in October, and the payment deadline will be extended from Nov. 10 to Dec. 10, county officials said.
The bills will be the first to be calculated according to new home values from Nassau's first countywide reassessment in a decade. After taking office in 2018, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran ordered the reassessment to be completed for the 2020-21 tax year.
Officials said the extensions were aimed at helping the county cope with fiscal damage caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
This year, Nassau's Assessment Department faced a complex task and tight time pressures for finalizing the roll.
In recent years, the department has handled between 8,000 and 10,000 tax challenge cases through small claims court.
This year, the county has received 60,000 challenges. The number is larger because the Curran administration ended the practice of granting mass settlements instituted by her predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano.
Bracing for as many as 100,000 challenges this year, county assessors had aimed to either settle cases or move to defend individual assessments by early this month, when the assessment roll typically is finalized. That would have allowed the county to send assessment figures to Nassau's three towns in the form of school tax "warrants." Towns use the data to publish tax bills.
The timing for finalizing the assessment roll is key: If homeowners win reductions in court after tax bills have been sent out, the county must refund all overpayments — including for school district taxes, which comprise the largest portion of property tax bills.
Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, issued an executive order that gives Nassau assessment officials some room to breathe.
Because of the order, the Nassau County Legislature will have until Oct. 16 to approve the roll, instead of the prior deadline of Sept. 18. The Assessment Department will have until Oct. 26 to send the warrants to the towns, instead of Sept. 28.
"I asked the Governor to extend the deadlines to provide additional time for Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) proceedings prior to the levy of taxes, which had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Curran said in a letter Wednesday to the legislature's Republican and Democratic leaders.
“Resolving these cases before the levy will save County taxpayers from paying costly refunds and will contribute to a more accurate assessment roll,” said Curran, a Democrat.
In a July 27 letter to Cuomo, Curran said the original deadlines had left "little or no time to resolve claims of delayed filers before refund liability arises."
The county could face payment of more than $100 million in refunds if the deadlines weren't moved, Curran wrote, and extending them would help Nassau "avert this outcome and thus maintain vital services and protect employees and taxpayers."
The deadline for homeowners to file assessment challenges had been April 30. But courts were closed for several months because of the coronavirus pandemics, and Cuomo issued executive orders that postponed the filing deadline several times. It is now Sept. 4.
Assessment Department officials said they were working to resolve the bulk of the challenges this year through a new mediation process, rather than going through the courts.
“It’s not a quick process,” County Assessor David Moog said. “It involves millions and millions of calculations.”
Legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said "I think unintentionally," the Curran administration is "benefiting all the homeowners out there who have an extra month to pay their school taxes. So we support that."
But Nicolello expressed concern about the Assessment Department's large caseload of challenges.
Nicolello recalled that Curran, in an April news release, touted data showing that the county's Assessment Review Commission had issued the fewest assessment reductions in years.
"The rationale is completely inconsistent with what they put out months ago, [that] this is the most accurate roll in history," Nicolello said.
"Now they're saying we need all this time to resolve all these challenges," he said. "Maybe it wasn't the most accurate roll in history."
Levittown School Superintendent Tonie McDonald, president-elect of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, said while delaying the mailing of tax bills until November “does create a cash flow issue for school districts, we understand and sympathize with our residents who may be experiencing difficulties during this unprecedented time. As always, we will do what is needed to make this situation work.”
Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Jeanine Driscoll, a Republican, called Cuomo's order a "welcome surprise" for taxpayers. She said it would not hamper the ability of her office to produce tax bills.
"We'll do fine," she said.
In March, a county report estimated that tax bills for more than 205,000 homeowners in Nassau — about 53% — would rise in October '20 and January '21 under Curran's reassessment. More than 177,000 property owners, about 46% percent, were expected to get tax reductions for the 2020-21 tax year, the report said.