Few are challenged more by high property taxes in Nassau County than senior citizens. And elected officials know it because such voters are often the most vocal about the pain. That’s why the expiration of a special tax abatement for Nassau senior citizens this year was shocking.
When the county legislature enacted a 19.3 percent property tax increase in 2002, it included a break for residents 65 and older with annual household income below $86,000. The abatement helped about 44,000 households, cutting their county general property tax bills by 5.5 percent. It’s not a ton of money, about $166 per household on average, but many retirees are cash poor. The value of properties that were affordable decades ago skyrocketed over time, but retirement incomes did not.
The break was not permanent, and it expired last year. It does not affect the county coffers either way. The $7 million is part of the county’s total levy. If it moves back on the bills of the affected seniors, it decreases slightly the tax increases paid by everyone else.
County Executive Edward Mangano and his GOP counterparts on the county legislature have blamed the State Legislature, but wrongly. While state approval must be granted for such an abatement, the long-held practice is for the state to act after the county makes a request. Once the measures are introduced in Albany, the county then passes a home-rule message in support of those specific bills in the Senate and Assembly.
The first claim from Mangano’s office that seniors didn’t need the break because he’s held the line on taxes for most of his tenure was a silly way for officials to cover their you-know-whats. And it failed. On Tuesday, Mangano said he would work to restore the abatement. But it never should have been allowed to expire. — The editorial board