Not one Nassau County taxpayer has gotten a flawed property-tax bill as a result of County Executive Laura Curran’s crusade to build an accurate roll of more than 400,000 properties. That’s because tax bills generated by the new values for 2020-21 won’t be sent out until Jan. 2.
What Curran is trying to do now is work out kinks in the new system and soothe residents’ anxiety and fury. It’s made harder because many of the county’s elected Republicans are encouraging rage and fear.
Until now, county properties have not been assessed since the roll was frozen in 2010, and the current valuations bear little relationship to reality. Many taxpayers won grievances year after year since 2010 that the county granted automatically to avoid generating potential refunds it could not afford to pay.
Those perpetual grievers did nothing wrong, but many of their homes are now seriously undervalued, and they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Meanwhile, the people who have not grieved are paying too much. This reassessment is projected to increase taxes for 52 percent of property owners and decrease them for 48 percent, and in most cases, the swings won’t be huge. Any hikes will be truly manageable if the State Legislature agrees to let the county spread out the changes over five years.
Thus far, the county has mailed two notices. The first notice informed people of their new valuation. The second estimated what they would owe under the new roll. Since this information became available, a lot of complaints have surfaced by people complaining of skyrocketing home values. What these owners aren’t mentioning is that the big increases are in comparison to the fictional values they won after numerous successful, often-unjustified grievances.
One man, for instance, is furious that his assessment is going up from $289,200 last year to $631,000 in the 2020-21 tax year. But what he isn’t bringing up is the home’s assessed value in 2009, before he won his last 10 reductions: $550,000.
Many of the people screaming loudest are ones losing comically low valuations. They are being encouraged by tax-appeal firms that don’t want to see a cash cow they’ve milked for more than $500 million since 2010 fade away, and by politicians like Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin and county legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello, who’ve done little to fix this debacle and have no better ideas on how to address it.
This process will hit bumps, but must be done. Curran is committed to holding community meetings and individual conferences with taxpayers to get it right. And taxpayers have until March 1 to grieve unfair assessments or mistake-laden 2020-21 bills. Property owners who have enjoyed unfairly low taxes must pay fair ones.
And officials scoring cynical points off a difficult situation ought to redirect their energies toward guiding constituents through the changes as calmly as possible and persuading state legislators to pass the five-year phase-in. The time for politicking on the Nassau County assessment system has passed. Now it’s leadership that’s needed. — The editorial board