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The truth about Nassau County’s tax woes

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks at an

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks at an LIA breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016 in Woodbury. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Since 2011, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has bragged that his reforms stopped new residential property tax refunds from being generated by the “county guarantee.”

He now admits that isn’t true, and his explanation for the misunderstanding, that neither he nor his staff understood how the system works, is not reassuring.

Mangano has eliminated $20 million to $30 million a year in residential refunds generated by assessment appeals that Nassau, unlike any other county, had to pay 100 percent of, even though it received only about 16 percent of the overpayment. Mangano changed the system so that nearly all homeowners now grieve and settle their assessments before they pay, preventing the overpayments that are dispersed to school districts and other municipalities, but refunded by Nassau.

What has not been eliminated is refunds on very expensive homes and small condominium complexes, which Mangano did not understand are part of the same class of property as all single-family homes.

What also has not been eliminated is about $80 million a year in commercial property refunds. Mangano is trying to address that with a plan that forces commercial owners to overpay 10 percent into an escrow fund to settle grievances, a plan likely to face a court challenge.

The county owes a backlog of more than $300 million in refunds. It owes bondholders more than $3 billion, and the county guarantee is most of the reason. Fixing that properly would take state laws that end the county guarantee and create a margin of error for assessments, below which owners are not owed a refund, as in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Mangano’s confusion over the details of the system is deeply problematic, but it’s not really the problem. Only Albany can fix that.

— The editorial board


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