For 10 of the past 12 years, and about 75 of the past 85, Nassau County has failed to assess properties, a core governmental responsibility.
Despite the difficulties, Nassau must resume regular assessments.
From 1938 until 2003, the values placed on existing structures were those determined in 1938. From 1964 until 2003, the values placed on land were those determined in 1964.
So as time went on, the only people whose assessments reflected reality were owners of new construction, the value of which went on the rolls as the properties did. That forced owners of new properties to shoulder far too much of the tax burden. So, too, did those in poorer communities, whose holdings appreciated more slowly than those in wealthier neighborhoods without their tax burden shrinking to reflect the difference.
The system was a disaster that led to a voracious tax-appeal industry, a complete degradation of the tax rolls, and finally in 2003, a new and accurate assessment.
The county kept up the good work of keeping assessments current until former County Executive Edward Mangano instituted a property-value freeze in 2010 that lasted eight years. The freeze and Mangano’s policy of settling grievances before the rolls were finalized greatly reduced the “county guarantee” bleeding: When Nassau loses an appeal after the rolls are set, it must return all the overpayment to the homeowner even though 84% went to school districts and other entities.
But Mangano’s method once again trashed the roll, and further strengthened the tax certoriari industry.
Mangano was followed in office by Laura Curran, who unfroze the rolls for two years, rebuilt the assessment department, assigned accurate values, defended against appeals, and created a five-year “phase-in” plan to correct the inequities caused by Mangano’s freeze and the appeal frenzy: When rolls are frozen and only some homeowners appeal, and almost all appeals are granted, the tax burden shifts massively onto those who do not grieve.
Then Curran froze the rolls herself two years ago, citing the pandemic and skyrocketing prices. They remain frozen, creating growing problems. The county is again granting almost all grievances, and making mass reductions in the assessment rate for residents who grieve through the big firms, creating an immediate and increasing penalty for any who don’t grieve.
County Executive Bruce Blakeman now has about six months to decide whether to again begin assessing for the 2024-2025 roll. He must do so.
County executive after county executive has, rightfully, demanded a change in state law to end the county guarantee or move assessing responsibilities to the towns, as is the case in almost all of New York, including Suffolk. Such ideas never pass because towns and school districts don’t want that responsibility, and state legislators are more sensitive to town and school district demands than county ones.
With or without those changes, Nassau County must assess properties regularly. There is absolutely no other way to fairly levy taxes.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.