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State judge signs off on $20M in tax judgments against Nassau

The county will have until early January to refund overpaid commercial property taxes, an attorney says.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Adams, seen here

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Adams, seen here on Jan. 5, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

A state judge this week gave incoming Nassau County Executive Laura Curran a $20 million lump of coal for Christmas by converting dozens of unpaid commercial property tax refunds into money judgments against the county.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Adams on Wednesday signed off on converting 186 court-ordered refunds, with some cases dating back to 2012, into about $20 million in money judgments.

Commercial tax attorney Laureen Harris said the judgments allow her to immediately demand money from banks that hold county deposits. But Harris said she will give the new administration 10 days from Jan. 1 — the day Curran is sworn in — to refund her clients’ overpaid property taxes.

Harris said she had given Curran a heads-up about the $20 million in judgments.

A Curran spokesman, Philip Shulman, said “one of the county executive-elect’s highest and most immediate priorities will be to meet with all stakeholders on county assessments.”

He said outstanding litigation and judgments are among the many issues the administration “must address in order to fix Nassau County’s finances.”

Harris said she also expected to ask the court to convert into money judgments some $13 million in settlements made over the past two years by the Assessment Review Commission, the county agency that can decide assessment challenges before property owners appeal to state court. She alleged the county has not booked those settlements as liabilities — though county officials contend the debts were recorded through 2016.

Most of the property owners awaiting refunds “are by and large small-business owners,” Harris said. With the recently passed federal tax-cut package eliminating some deductions and online shopping cutting into their profits, “I feel an obligation to enforce this,” she said.

The outgoing administration of County Executive Edward Mangano said it plans to appeal Adams’ decision. Deputy County Executive Eric Naughton also said a portion of the $20 million in judgments is included in $75 million the county is paying in refunds this year. He said next year’s budget, which begins on Jan. 1, includes a newly created “disputed assessment fund” to help pay the cost of erroneous assessments.

“This seems like a pointless exercise as the County always intended to pay these refunds,” said Naughton, who will not continue with the Curran administration.

But Harris said Adams’ decision to convert the tax refunds to money judgments “cannot be appealed. The only thing that could have been appealed is the mathematical calculations in the money judgments and that time has passed.”

She labeled Nassau’s continuing promises to pay the refunds as “smoke and mirrors.” She said Nassau had said it would pay the outstanding claims in February when the county declared it had ended 2016 with a surplus and would not have to borrow this year to cover the costs.

At a subsequent court hearing, she said, the county said refunds would be paid by September or the last quarter of this year.

“As of December 22, there is mostly coal in the taxpayers’ stockings,” Harris said.

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