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EDITORIAL: Fixing assessments is important but won't lower taxes

County Executive Edward Mangano has raised high expectations by naming a commission to repair Nassau's mess of a property tax system. He's right to make an aggressive push on this long-standing problem. But the moves he's suggesting, by themselves, won't lower property tax bills or close the county budget deficit. Mangano's Assessment Review Team is expected to consider three alternatives in the next six months. They might choose one or a combination of the three. The ideas could eventually reduce the nearly $100 million in annual refunds paid by the county.

The first is to adopt a cyclical assessment, meaning properties would be reassessed every two to four years instead of annually. One problem is that values could be locked in for the duration of the cycle - giving property owners just one chance in four years, say, to challenge their assessment.

The second alternative is to freeze property assessments for up to five years. This would give the county a breather to catch up on the backlog, especially on commercial grievances, which take as long as six years. Both the freeze and the cyclical system seem likely to make assessments less accurate.

The third idea is to shorten the time needed to evaluate a residential assessment challenge. Currently, taxpayers often receive their next bill before they know the result of the previous year's challenge. This is confusing and leads homeowners to grieve year after year, clogging the system more.

Mangano has wisely retained Assessor Ted Jankowski and brought in Patrick Foye, a former state economic development official, to guide the review team. Beyond the stated alternatives, the team should also study how to squeeze inefficiencies out of the current system.

Everyone in Nassau would benefit from an understandable system. But while fixing the process is a good step, the real driver of high property taxes is the cost of our schools. Fresh ideas are needed there before tax bills will fall. hN