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Nassau residents question computer files used in reassessment

A group of Nassau County residents contend in

A group of Nassau County residents contend in a lawsuit that the countywide reassessment was arbitrary, secretive and violated state and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A group of Nassau residents who have challenged the legality of the county’s reassessment say their data expert has identified 14 files that are missing from the computer formula the county says it used to develop new home values.

Sands Point homeowner Eric Berliner, lead plaintiff in the reassessment lawsuit, said Wednesday that Nassau gave flawed computer algorithms to Lynbrook resident Dennis Duffy, which “causes the program to error.”

Berliner said he has informed Duffy’s attorney of the missing files and will submit his own Freedom of Information Law request for the data.

Duffy filed a lawsuit in April to force Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to disclose the computer formula for residential assessments.

Late last month, the county dropped its claim that the formula was a trade secret exempt from disclosure, and produced 239 printed pages of PDF code a deputy county attorney said “are the algorithms for the reassessment.”

But Berliner’s co-plaintiff Robert Fine, CEO of Manhattan investment bank Brean Capital, said Brean’s data science adviser found “several data files and additional script files required to run the mode to be missing. Without the missing code the program will not run, it just produces errors.”

Fine said Brean Strategic Advisors, a firm that provides analytical data support to top banks and law firms, identified seven missing files as well as seven "referenced scripts," or computer instructions.

The data advisers “were able to recreate the program,” Fine said in an interview. “They found the program wouldn’t run because it was missing some key components. … It’s like you bought a car in pieces that you couldn’t drive because they took out a few pieces. If you were clever enough to put the car together, it didn’t work.”

Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said the county “provided Mr. Duffy the information he asked for in his FOIL request. He asked for the formula used to calculate values by market area — he was provided this. The creator of the formula has confirmed that no information or additional code was missing from the formula.”

Berliner, Fine and two other Nassau homeowners filed suit in state Supreme Court in April. They contended the countywide reassessment was arbitrary, secretive and violated state and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. The case before Justice Stephen Bucaria has been adjourned until July 1, Berliner said.

Duffy’s attorney Cameron Macdonald said Wednesday Duffy and he were reviewing the PDF file released by the county to see if it is the algorithm Duffy requested.

Several readers emailed Newsday Wednesday to say they had reviewed the PDF file posted by Hempstead Tax Receiver Don Clavin on the town website and found flaws or missing information.

Henry Boitel of Rockville Centre, for example, wrote: “Any program, such as this, should properly have documentation that: a) Carefully describes the theoretical flow of the program, in plain language; b) Similarly describes each data file, and the method by which that data was accumulated, selected and verified; c) Defines the categories of real property to which that data is going to be compared and why; d) Gives some description of why the process covers all of the relevant bases.”

Clavin said such feedback is why he posted the link.

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