The Nassau County assessment office in Mineola. 

The Nassau County assessment office in Mineola.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

In 1993, Nassau County property owners filed 55,000 property tax grievances. Nationally, only 2.9% of property owners in large municipalities grieve, but the tally in Nassau was four times that.

By 2003, after the first reassessment in 60 years, grievances hit 100,000. And in 2021, after then-County Executive Laura Curran lifted predecessor Edward Mangano’s freeze and again reassessed, grievances hit 261,000. That’s 62% of Nassau properties, more than 30 times the national average.

Now the system is so broken, and the behaviors of property owners and tax-appeal firms so abnormal and unproductive, that only changes in state law can fix it. Nassau property owners grieve habitually, seduced by endless solicitations for free appeals, fearful of overpaying when neighbors get reductions.

Former County Comptroller Jack Schnirman released an audit of the county’s assessment system last month showing that much of the savings derived by tax firms goes to those firms, not property owners. And the reductions caused the tax rate in the county to skyrocket 46% from 2012 to 2019, even as actual taxes collected increased 6% for the county and 12% for its municipalities and school districts.

So a tax firm can "save" a homeowner $1,000 by getting a reduced assessment, take $500 of that $1,000 for itself, and have nothing to say when the tax rate increase caused by 62% of property owners seeking (and almost always getting) lowered values sucks up much of the $500 savings the homeowner might have gotten from the grievance.

The tax firms made at least $500 million during Mangano’s freeze, all paid by Nassau’s property owners. But with values again frozen and nearly all grievances granted to let the county avoid paying huge refunds for school districts that keep the overpayments, it’s financially foolish not to grieve.

Bruce Blakeman defeated Curran in part by promising to fix the assessment system. What he can do is assess properties regularly and try to fight specious challenges rather than granting them. But any real fix demands a law that makes Nassau residents, as in other parts of New York, wait three years to file a new grievance after a successful appeal.

Albany must also end the "county guarantee" that, uniquely, puts the burden of assessing properties and paying refunds exclusively on Nassau County and not the school districts and other municipal entities who keep the overpayment. A "margin of error" law must be adopted, as in many states, that says assessments off by less than 5% don’t generate refunds. And, as in many states, there must be a consequence to frivolous appeals: assessment hikes when properties are found to be undervalued, not just reductions.

And perhaps tax-appeal firms could offer to pay the overage if a client's bill increases.

Nassau's state and local lawmakers must finally put the needs of their residents above the profits of the extremely politically generous firms, and fight for these needed changes.

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.