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Surge in assessment challenges in Nassau

A neighborhood of houses in Elmont is seen

A neighborhood of houses in Elmont is seen in this aerial photo on July 1, 2019. Credit: Newsday/John Keating

More than 80,000 Nassau County taxpayers challenged their property values this year through the court system, the final avenue for appeal after the county had upheld most of the new home values set by County Executive Laura Curran's administration, new data shows.

The appeals caseload represents an avalanche compared with prior years, when between 8,000 to 10,000 property owners typically challenged their values through the small claims assessment review process, known as SCAR.

The numbers remained low because the county Assessment Review Commission, which weighs in first on tax challenges, was granting automatic reductions to huge numbers of filers.

Former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, had frozen the tax rolls in 2011 in a bid to prevent legal challenges.

But the commission's practice of granting reductions automatically led to a system in which homeowners who did not file grievances ended up shouldering a disproportionately higher share of the tax burden, according to experts.

Curran, a Democrat who took office in 2018, ordered the first countywide reassessment in nearly a decade to be completed for the 2020-21 tax year.

In Nassau, property values are set by the county. School tax bills for the 2020-21 tax year, the first to reflect the new values under reassessment, are to be mailed in November. General tax bills will arrive in January.

County Assessor David Moog said the Department of Assessment had an "unprecedented" number of cases to resolve this year.

"It was a huge undertaking," he said.

The department instituted a mediation program, in which 58,429 cases were resolved. Another 8,249 cases were resolved through SCAR hearings.

County officials said the median reduction was 3%, and the average reduction was 4%.

There still are 13,405 cases in the court system, and Nassau is responsible for refunding homeowners who win their cases after tax bills have gone out. Cases had to be settled by Sept. 18 so the county could finalize the 2020-21 roll.

County officials had no estimate of the potential liability from refunds.

But the situation has arisen as Nassau faces a projected a $749 million deficit in 2020 and 2021 because of steep revenue losses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Moog said the pandemic, which forced closure of the courts, put officials in a time crunch to resolve the cases with speed and accuracy.

Homeowners originally had faced an April 30 deadline to file assessment appeals. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued executive orders that extended the deadline several times, ultimately until Sept. 4.

The county was unable to begin accepting assessment appeals until May 25. By July 1, 28,000 petitions had been filed, Moog said, and more than 50,000 were filed in July, August and the beginning of September.

Taxpayers had "had over 150 days to file these, so with every extension we kept getting more and more petitions,"Moog said.

Nassau County Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) expressed concern that the Curran administration had granted thousands of reductions through the Assessment Review Commission and the new mediation program.

"For a reassessment the administration claims is fair and accurate, granting reductions to tens of thousands of Nassau properties is an indication the values were anything but that," Ferretti said.

"Unfortunately, this settlement program initiated by the Curran administration will result in the same inequities for taxpayers that the county seeks to cure," he said.

But the Curran administration has touted the accuracy of the assessment roll.

Resolution of assessment challenges "wasn't done in a slap-dash way. It was done efficiently and fairly, to the benefit of the county and the taxpayers," Moog said.

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NASSAU ASSESSMENT CHALLENGES

58,429 cases were resolved through mediation.

8,249 cases were resolved through the "small claims assessment review" process.

13,405 cases are still in the court system. Nassau County is responsible for paying refunds in cases it loses.

Source: Nassau County Department of Assessment

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