Some Nassau seniors have been billed for more than they owe in taxes this year because senior citizen sewer tax abatements were missing from county assessment data used to generate last month's general tax bills, town officials said Wednesday. Total overcharges could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Oyster Bay Tax Receiver James Stefanich said the county told him this week that about $180,000 in senior citizen sewer abatements had been omitted from the tax warrant the county gave him at the end of December.
Because of the county’s mistake, he said, “We’re billing too much money. My question is who should be billed less. Who should be getting the abatement? They have not been able to tell us that yet.”
Abatements reduce the amount of actual taxes owed, while exemptions reduce the assessed value used to calculate property tax bills. Town tax receivers use county data to generate property tax bills and collect tax payments.
North Hempstead Tax Receiver Charles Berman said through a spokeswoman that $136,420 in senior sewer abatements were omitted from the county tax warrant the town received.
“We made the county aware that there was a problem last year, however we never got an explanation,” Berman said in a statement. “It seems like this problem has reoccurred this year.”
Hempstead Town Tax Receiver Donald Clavin said his office was still calculating seniors' additional costs. He said town officials had identified at least 87 senior citizens who did not receive their entitled abatements. “We haven’t been told anything by Nassau County,” Clavin said.
Christine Geed, a spokeswoman for County Executive Laura Curran, said, “We are researching what happened. We are trying to put the pieces together. We want to take care of the who, what, where and why ... If someone was impacted by this, we want to make right by it.”
The senior abatement on county taxes was approved by the Nassau County Legislature in 2002 as a way to offset a 19.3 percent county property tax hike passed that year.
It lapsed under the former administration of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, but state lawmakers and the county Legislature reauthorized the abatement in January 2017. Curran, then a Democratic legislator, co-sponsored the county bill.
The law says senior citizens who qualify for the enhanced STAR tax exemption are eligible for the abatement. This year, the enhanced exemption is available to residents 65 and older with an adjusted income of a maximum $86,300.
The abatement mistake was not a result of Curran’s reassessment, which has been plagued with errors including typos, posting of incorrect tentative assessment data and calculating assessment increases that exceeded a 6 percent cap.
After residents of five Nassau villages were overcharged $9.3 million in their sewer taxes last year, Curran promised to fix “outdated” county systems to “prevent this failure from happening again.” Her office said last month it had instituted “three layers of review” to prevent tax bill errors.
However, the Curran administration last week acknowledged it mistakenly had eliminated $176,000 in exemptions for Cold War military veterans in the data for the general tax bills. Curran has asked the legislature to approve refunds for the affected veterans.
Curran blamed the error affecting Cold War veterans on the county’s antiquated computer systems. But Clavin’s office suggested the errors occurred when the Curran administration changed exemption codes.
Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), presiding officer of the Republican-controlled legislature, said in a statement the missing senior sewer abatements are “another unacceptable mistake. This latest error impacts our most vulnerable Seniors, which is why the Majority demanded the County Executive remove the Assessor. These mistakes cannot be allowed to continue. Our residents deserve better.”
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said in a statement, “It’s a fact that shouldn’t have to be explained — seniors should get the exemptions they have earned and are entitled to. If this omission is indeed the case, the [county] assessment department needs to be correct this issue immediately.”
Officials said they were unsure how to correct the errors in the senior sewer abatements.
Stefanich said his office already is collecting revenues from property owners who have paid their general tax bills.
He said the county would have to correct its tax warrants before he could send out new bills, which would increase the town’s printing and mailing costs and would not help those seniors who have already paid too much.