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Nassau County lawmakers approve assessment contracts

The Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in

The Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola, Nov. 20, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau lawmakers on Monday approved two contract amendments that would allow for a reassessment of all county properties by 2019, in a debate that reflected tension over the speed at which a sweeping overhaul of the county’s assessment system should take place.

Five members of the legislature’s Rules Committee voted for the measures, and two abstained.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, had asked the legislature to approve the contract amendments.

Under the agreements, Nassau would hire Standard Valuation Services and Michael Haberman Associates, both of Mineola, to calculate new values for all residential and commercial properties.

The companies have received $3.8 million in contracts since they were first hired in 2015; Curran is seeking to pay them $2.6 million more to finish the reviews.

The Rules Committee had tabled the contract amendments after lengthy discussion on March 5, when Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, expressed concern about staffing in the county assessment department.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and administration officials urged fast action before the vote Monday.

“Either we move this along or not. Either we have another year of frozen assessment rolls, with people grieving in the hundreds of thousands, or not,” said Nicolello, who backed the amendments. “And we have another year in which the system gets worse.”

John Chiara, deputy county executive for compliance, said “inequity and unfairness” were “driving the administration to tackle this problem as soon as possible. It’s been a problem that’s been going on since the rolls were frozen in 2011.”

A Newsday investigation last year exposed imbalances in tax bills between those who filed grievances with the county and those who did not.

Chiara said delaying the contracts would create “an additional hardship again to those that don’t grieve. They are hit again another year. By pushing it off, you are again creating additional inequities in the system, which are going to hurt specific groups over others.”

Nicolello and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who abstained along with Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), disagreed over how to respond to results the firms produce.

Abrahams said the 19-member county legislature should be able review the findings.

Nicolello responded: “We are trying to cooperate with this administration to move this along. I think people have to start wondering who’s cooperating and who’s not cooperating.”

Bynoe said an analysis by her office found significant disparities that disproportionately affect communities where residents have not grieved their taxes recently.

“My concern is that we will be negatively impacting those that are already at a higher percentage of their value. Within two years, we increase disparities,” Bynoe said. “This is not striking any level of equality. . . . We have an opportunity to do something really meaningful here, and do it right.”

Curran spokesman Mike Martino noted that the contracts require bonding authority. He said the administration will seek bonding approval from the full legislature on March 26.

Approval of the contracts and bonding “will support the goal of lifting the 2011 freeze on the tax roll,” Martino said. He said Curran intends to issue an executive order “unfreezing the tax roll with approval by the full legislature of the bonding on March 26.”

Also Monday, the Rules Committee approved the appointment of Vera Fludd as Nassau County sheriff; David H. Rich, who becomes executive director of the county Traffic and Parking Violations Agency; and Melissa Gallucci as commissioner of the Department of Shared Services.

In other committees, lawmakers approved an amendment to the county’s social host law that would make homeowners and renters responsible for illegal opioid and prescription drug use by anyone under the age of 21 on their properties.

Legislators also unanimously approved a real property tax exemption for Cold War veterans. The resolution would expand the current exemption from 10 to the life of a veteran living in a qualifying property. Would also raise the cap from $50,000 to $75,000 in exemptions.

With Celeste Hadrick

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