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Feds' funds provide Sandy property tax help

A tree falls over a house on Kildare

A tree falls over a house on Kildare Road in Garden City. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Stabile

Federal funds will be used to spare Long Islanders from property tax increases stemming from superstorm Sandy.

State and local officials said Wednesday that the tax stabilization plan would give tax breaks to those whose homes and businesses were damaged by Sandy. It also will provide money to keep taxes flat for everyone else whose levies would have risen to make up for the loss in property taxes because of home assessments lowered by Sandy damage.

The plan, which covers Nassau and Suffolk counties and the rest of the state, will tap into $300 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to compensate counties, towns, school districts and others, documents state.

The infusion of cash will especially help residents who were not affected by Sandy, as a shift in home values would have left them carrying more of the property tax burden, said Nassau Executive Edward Mangano.

The new plan "protects non-Sandy victims from a tax increase while making certain taxes are reduced for Sandy destroyed and damaged homes," Mangano said in a statement.

The total value of the tax breaks for damaged homes has not been calculated, as Nassau officials said they are still gathering data and assessing damages. But state and local officials both said they are confident the federal government will provide enough money to make the plan a success.

The plan is good news for Edward Reicherter of East Rockaway, who lost the first floor of his home to Sandy, which he said caused $117,000 in damage to his house.

"If they are going to assist everybody in the area that got hit the hardest -- Island Park, Long Beach, Oceanside, East Rockaway, anything that's low lying -- that would be helpful," Reicherter said.

Nassau officials have been canvassing the county for property owners who feel their properties were damaged by Sandy and deserve an assessment reduction. More than 5,000 responded, officials said.

The county is still visiting all of the properties -- a process that started in November, just after Sandy -- and has not denied any of them entry into the program, Nassau officials said.

Many of the homes are being rebuilt and will only need the abatement plan for one year, officials said.

More than 1,500 properties were substantially damaged in Suffolk, county officials said.

"Both counties have been advocating on behalf of our taxpayers in ensuring that there is not going to be an undue burden on our taxpayers who have not been affected by Sandy," Suffolk spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said.

The stabilization money is coming from HUD as part of the state's disaster recovery action plan, which was announced late last month, state officials said.

The stabilization money also will help prevent local service cuts, said Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, adding that "these localities will not have to cut critical services and residents will not be burdened by tax hikes."

Nassau's annual tax grievance process will go forward while the stabilization plan takes effect. So far 157,381 people have filed grievances -- 15 percent more than last year, county officials said. The grievance period is over but the count isn't final, officials said.

The jump could be because Nassau extended its grievance deadline two months to accommodate Sandy victims, said Sean Acosta, a property tax consultant based in Jericho.

"Just because they've filed doesn't mean they are going to get a reduction," Acosta said, adding that Sandy damage is not a guarantee of a lowered assessment.

Suffolk's grievance deadline is May 21.

Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), a political opponent of Mangano, said the plan has promise but the county must make sure enough stabilization money is collected to fund school districts and villages.

"If this is done district by district and properly calculated, it could work," Denenberg said. "We don't really know how much money is needed to provide a full abatement."

Highlights of the federal Sandy tax program

Property assessments frozen at pre-Sandy values.

Sandy victims: They will have taxes lowered to reflect lost values.

Everyone else: Federal funds will compensate for those losses, keeping taxes flat.

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