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Editorial: Don't rush a bill to fix Nassau assessments

Nassau County has joined Suffolk in banning smoking

Nassau County has joined Suffolk in banning smoking in its parks. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Nassau's "county guarantee," the rule that states the county is responsible for refunding all property tax overpayments even when most of the money has gone to school districts and other municipalities, has plagued its finances since 1948. It has cost the county billions of dollars, and is the cause of much of its $3.5-billion debt.

County Executive Edward Mangano has solved this problem with residential refunds by settling all such grievances before the final tax roll is set. This has led to a high rate of successful grievances, and higher tax bills for property owners who don't grieve, but it has eliminated the problem of overpayments and refunds.

Now Mangano has a plan, introduced in the State Senate, that in concept might work to end the refunds for commercial properties, which cost the county $80 million to $100 million annually. But there is too little time left in the legislative session and this issue is too complex to solve with a last-minute bill that is confusing and poorly written.

The bill seems to say that when owners grieve their commercial assessments and those are not settled before the final roll is created, 10 percent of the money paid at that point will go into a fund to pay refunds to successful owners. Legislative analysts aren't sure of its ramifications. It would definitely create an increase in school tax rates, and state legislators wonder if that would have tax-cap implications.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli should weigh in, but is there time? Such a change in state law would demand a home rule message from the Nassau County Legislature be issued Monday, but neither legislators nor their constituents, school board members or other stakeholders have had time to comment. Trying to quietly pass a law in Albany at the very end of the year's legislative session has become a Mangano hallmark, but rushing this bill is a mistake. Nassau needs a solution, but it has to be a well-vetted one that experts and the public support.