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Stop politicizing Nassau County’s reassessment

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signs legislation on

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signs legislation on Nov. 14 requiring that notices be sent to homeowners estimating the tax impact of the county's new property tax reassessments. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s move to build an accurate, defensible property tax roll is becoming badly politicized, and the squabble over the details of a 60-day extension to grieve new assessments certainly drives home the point.

Amid the ruckus, Republican Richard Nicolello, the county legislature’s presiding officer, proposed legislation to extend the deadline for appealing assessments from March 1 to April 30. Curran, a Democrat, responded by saying the legislation might not be legal. Then she announced that the county Assessment Review Commission would move the deadline to April 30, a grace period it also adopted in past years.

Yet Nicolello and other legislators won’t stop pushing for unneeded legislation to achieve something that’s already going to happen. And Curran is fighting back hard against legislation that would only codify what she’s already agreed to do. It’s a pointless and frustrating battle.

Much of the fighting is not about reassessments, but which party will win the most seats in the county legislature in November. The county Democratic Party has polled residents on their attitudes toward the reassessment and who is to blame for the county’s predicament. The county Republican Party is sowing dissent on the hot-button issue as part of a strategy to keep control. Meanwhile, the county’s public sector unions see reassessment as an opportunity to force Curran to stop fighting them in current contract negotiations. To weaken her support, one of the unions hired a panel truck with a digital display to flash the false message that Curran’s reassessment means taxes are going up. Tax-appeal companies also are in the fray, fighting to keep their oh-so-sweet income stream.

And county legislators from both parties are currying favor with voters by demonizing reassessment when they should be supporting the process and a five-year phase-in of the changes. Very few of the interested parties seem concerned about the taxpayers or the financial stability of the county.

The tax roll was frozen in 2010 by then-County Executive Edward Mangano, and the valuations eventually bore no relation to reality after nearly a decade of rubber-stamped reductions. These were granted by the county before rolls were set each year to avoid paying refunds out of its own coffers on taxes it had collected for school districts and other municipalities, Nassau’s unique “county guarantee.” About half of the county’s residential property owners, who didn’t regularly appeal, are overtaxed significantly. The other half, who have appealed regularly, pay less than their fair share, often far less.

The biggest winners have been the tax-appeal companies, who have made more than $500 million from the process since 2010. Every penny of that sum had to be made up by county taxpayers via higher tax rates.

Curran’s administration has made a difficult process harder with numerous operational fumbles in rolling out the new assessments. Curran’s opponents have made a difficult process harder by fearmongering and “fighting” for the property owners who have been undertaxed for years while ignoring the plight of those who have been overpaying.

The mistakes and the politics have to stop. — The editorial board