When Nassau County Executive Laura Curran decided to do a full reassessment of nearly 400,000 properties and build an accurate and defensible tax roll, she set the county on a tremendously difficult path.
Even if her administration handled every aspect of the reassessment perfectly, the confusion and fear of people destined to see their bills increase significantly were bound to create strife and anger. But making good decisions and executing them competently could have helped ease Nassau through a process that must take place.
Thus far, though, many missteps and unforced errors risk jeopardizing the success of the reassessment and alarming residents, judging by the turnout at a public hearing Wednesday evening. Those missteps by Curran’s administration include:
- Announcing the county would stick with assessing at a rate of 0.25 percent and follow the restriction that no assessed market value would increase by more than 6 percent in one year and 20 percent in five years. After a study showed that wouldn’t work, Curran realized that she’d be forced to reduce the rate of assessment to 0.10 percent and increase market values on undervalued properties more quickly. Slower change would not correct huge imbalances caused by former County Executive Edward Mangano’s disastrous decision to freeze the tax roll in 2011 and approve unjustified reductions.
- Having to redo 20,000 disclosure notices because the projected increases in assessments of those properties were too high to pass legal muster.
- Having to correct 60,000 tax-impact notices posted on the county website because they listed the wrong property values for the 2018-19 tax year in showing how owners’ taxes are projected to change.
- Sending a potentially frightening robocall about the need to file paperwork for an income-based property tax exemption to 400,000 households instead of 3,500 senior residents to whom it was intended.
The broken assessment system has forced Nassau to borrow more than $1 billion to pay refunds. And it has created a tremendous imbalance that victimizes taxpayers who do not grieve their assessments while rewarding ones who do less than they think. That’s because more than $500 million of the reductions granted to grieving taxpayers ended up in the pockets of companies that grieve taxes. As a result, tax rates had to be increased for everyone.
Curran is doing the right thing in creating an accurate roll. Now her administration needs to do it right. That means better helping people understand whose bills are changing and why. It means explaining how eliminating the incentive for tax grievance firms to solicit clients means lower rates for everyone. It means getting state legislators to publicly commit to a law that would smooth out increases over five years. And it means handling every concern and complaint residents have quickly, competently and kindly.
Owners whose assessments increase drastically to their fair levels will find their new bills offensive. The best and only defense is open communication and utter competence. — The editorial board