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Opinion

Nassau assessment plan waylaid by the coronavirus

The Nassau County Department of Assessment in Mineola.

The Nassau County Department of Assessment in Mineola. Credit: Barry Sloan

Daily Point

State heeds Nassau's appeals on appeals

Last year, during the 2019-2020 tax year, Nassau County settled 175,067 residential property tax grievances out of 211,940 filed, leaving a potential pool of 36,873 filers who could have taken their grievance to the next level, Small Claims Assessment Review.

That all happened when the roll was still frozen and the strategy for beating back refunds generated by successful grievances was to settle most without a whimper.

This year, County Executive Laura Curran vowed to defend the newly unfrozen and compiled residential roll, lowering the county’s assessment ratio from .25 to .10 to create a situation where all properties could be taxed fairly without breaking state law. 

So this year 227,475 homeowners grieved, and the county only settled with 82,665 of them, leaving a mountainous 144,810 potential appeals for the Small Claims Assessment Review. 

The computer portal through which those who choose to appeal can do so was supposed to open April 1, giving taxpayers and the tax-appeal firms who represent them 30 days to file. 

But on April 1, and since, the state courts were almost entirely closed by coronavirus. Not one appeal has gone to SCAR. 

And the tax roll still has to be set by Aug. 1. 

If the appeals can’t be processed by Aug. 1, any refunds they generate will come out of Nassau’s  coffers. 

Curran’s best-laid plans aside, the county could find itself facing the same budget-busting situation that led former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to freeze the residential roll in the first place, although county officials believe, and the state and a Newsday study have concluded, that the new roll is fairly accurate.

And there was some good news Wednesday, when the chief administrative judge of the state’s Unified Court System sent out a letter announcing the state’s electronic filing system would open on Monday, May 25 (yes, Memorial Day.)

That means Nassau County residents who want to take their appeals to the next level can start filing via the portal, and the county and the court can start fighting and adjudicating the appeals as they come in.

What’s not yet clear is how many of the 144,810 grievers who have the right to take their fight to the next level now will do so, and how many the courts and Nassau can process before the roll goes final and reductions turn into refunds.

But county officials say they’ll put their process, including a mediation program, in overdrive, to get through as many as possible. 

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Port Authority joins chorus asking for stimulus funding

New York needs money. New Jersey needs money. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs money.

And now, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey needs money, too.

As a two-state agency that depends on user fees and public-private partnership agreements for much of its revenue, the Port Authority doesn't reflexively look to the federal government for funding. But executive director Rick Cotton told the Port board Thursday that this was an “extraordinary moment.” The Port is projecting a $3 billion drop in revenue over the next 24 months. 

So, the authority is requesting $3 billion from the next congressional stimulus effort, Cotton said. 

Local congressional representatives from both states, including all of Long Island’s representatives on both sides of the aisle, this week wrote to the leaders of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate requesting the funding.  

“We really face no choice,” Cotton told the authority’s board during a virtual meeting Thursday.

The dollars are particularly important to allow the authority to continue its capital program, Cotton said. That plan includes the transformation of Kennedy Airport and the construction of the LaGuardia AirTrain. Beyond the specific projects that would be impacted, Cotton noted that such capital work would “contribute vigorously” to the region’s economic recovery, and would help to bring travelers back to the region.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Graduation Day: 2020 edition

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Final Point

LIPA raising the stakes

LIPA’s announcement about the closing of some of its overtaxed fossil fuel generating units comes just as its mega tax assessment case is reaching a critical juncture.

On Monday, LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone said the combination of COVID-19-related declines in revenue along with less need for the energy produced by the aging plants dictates that some units at Northport, Glenwood Landing and Island Park could be shuttered by 2022. LIPA said it would decide which units would be shut by the end of the year.

Another decision, however, is expected much sooner. Although the courts are closed because of the pandemic, attorneys for LIPA and the Town of Huntington will hold a virtual hearing in the next week with Justice C. Randall Hinrichs, who had the difficult task of trying to work a settlement of the contentious and complicated lawsuit over whether the town overassessed the Northport generating plant.

Despite another “this is your last chance” yell by LIPA, it’s highly unlikely the Huntington Town Board would approve a settlement now. The town backed away from a deal in February that included LIPA concessions — and that was before COVID-19 increased the financial hardship for both the town and the Northport-East Northport school district. Now, Hinrichs is more than likely to tell the trial judge there is little hope of a negotiated settlement, clearing the way for State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth H. Emerson to issue her ruling on the merits of LIPA’s claims in the cases which have been pending for more than a decade.

LIPA’s opponents, however, had always expected a political win, thinking a losing verdict that hits the town with massive liability could force Albany to remedy the pain with state funds. That seems to be an increasingly unlikely ask because the coronavirus has depleted the state coffers.

—Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

The Point will return on Tuesday. We hope you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.

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