Nassau County for the third time has postponed the deadline for filing assessment challenges in small claims court, until Sept. 4, increasing pressure on the county to resolve claims before tax bills are published.
Nassau already was bracing for a record number of appeals this summer after County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, conducted the county's first reassessment in nearly a decade.
Concluding that the asssessment roll was largely accurate, the county Assessment Review Commission this year had denied a record number of assessment grievances and ended the nearly decadelong practice of issuing mass settlements.
Officials in Nassau's Department of Assessment had planned to take much of the summer to settle or defend the cases in a legal process known as small claims assessment review, or SCAR. Officials were seeking to resolve them by early August, when Nassau must finalize tax warrants used to calculate the October school tax bills.
But a series of executive orders by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo closing the court system because of the coronavirus pandemic caused officials to delay the appeals deadline.
"The extensions of the filing period due to the pandemic continue to stack the odds against the department – further narrowing the window to resolve cases before tax warrants need to be created," county spokesman Mike Fricchione said.
"We urge homeowners who want to file to do so as soon as possible," Fricchione said. "If there are any changes in your assessment, you’ll want them reflected before tax bills are generated in August. Filing now is a win-win for the County and the homeowner -- homeowners will have confidence that their tax bills are accurate and the County, financially devastated by the pandemic, won’t need to issue costly refunds."
SCAR filings were accepted beginning May 25, and the county initially said filings were due by July 6. Nassau pushed back the date to Aug. 5, after officials decided that a Cuomo order allowed taxpayers a 30-day window to file petitions. Another executive order pushed the date to Sept. 4, according to a county spokesman.
Nassau County Clerk Maureen O'Connell said the delay until Sept. 4 was "predicated on the difficulty of managing the volume" of cases.
Tax firms that represent thousands of property owners were requesting hearings "on so many cases, that there's no practical way to get that all done in the window within which this was originally decided," said O'Connell, a Republican. "So, I think that was the impetus behind the extension again."
O'Connell said courts would have had trouble resolving the cases by July or August.
"They had to get hearing officers in, trained," O'Connell said. "I guess in the era of social distancing, trying to keep everything safe in the courthouse ... I think it became an impractical possibility."
The county is bracing for as many as 100,000 SCAR filings, and Nassau could be on the hook to repay millions of dollars in refunds if large numbers of homeowners win reductions after their tax bills are created. School tax bills arrive in October.
A state law known as the "county guaranty" requires Nassau to refund property owners for all overcharges, including school taxes, which make up the largest portion of the property tax payment.
The race to resolve the tax challenges comes as Nassau County is coping with massive revenue losses stemming from the pandemic. Curran administration officials project a $749 million budget deficit over the next 18 months.
Fricchione said the county had anticipated the added caseload, assigned more assessment staff to review the challenges and "worked with the courts to prepare."
Nassau has received 37,000 SCAR filings so far. The county has a new mediation process aimed at settling cases before they go to court. To date, about 5,100 of the cases have been resolved, with county officials hoping to settle many more through the program.