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Fix Nassau assessments problem

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Adams in Mineola

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Adams in Mineola on Jan. 5, 2016. His decision on whether to grant lawyers' requests to immediately halt enforcement of fines imposed by Nassau County on commercial property owners could come as early as Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

With fights over Nassau County property tax assessments and refunds, the question is, who benefits? The answer is attorneys and companies that get rich contesting assessments.

In 2013, Nassau County passed a huge hike in the penalties for commercial owners who don’t file income and expense information on their properties. Increasing the then-$500 fine dramatically would bring in cash but also, hopefully, get landlords to follow the law and share the numbers. Without the information, the county generates assessments that are trumped in court by attorneys who, possessing the accurate information, win big refunds for their clients for hefty fees.

Now hundreds of Nassau businesses are participating in lawsuits arguing that the county’s penalties on those who don’t supply the information are excessive and illegal. The fines start at 0.25 percent of a property’s value and double if owners don’t comply. The suits also assert that some fines have been levied incorrectly or on property owners who don’t have to supply information because they occupy their own buildings. County officials say mistakes have been made, as with any large tax-billing system, but lawsuits aren’t necessary to rectify them.

And lawyers say they will soon sue over a new law requiring commercial property owners to pay into an escrow fund to settle tax refunds.

The unique state mandate that requires Nassau to pay all tax refunds even though it only gets 17 percent of payments costs county taxpayers about $80 million a year. The school districts that fight the repeal of the county guarantee are part of the problem. But professionals fighting to maintain the system that gives them a huge bite of that $80 million — and who are big contributors to political campaigns — are the ones benefiting most. It’s their financial interests that are behind the endless obstructions to any attempt to improve the situation. 


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