Nassau's three towns are leaving the door open to County Executive Edward Mangano's proposal to make property assessment their job.
But town officials say they need to be convinced that such a move would help, not hurt, their residents.
That puts the onus on Mangano to devise and pitch a workable plan. Make no mistake, it'll be a hard sell.
Mangano said Friday he has directed staff to consider ways to secure state legislation to help lessen the multimillion-dollar liability Nassau accrues each year from successful commercial and residential property tax assessment appeals.
His move followed a unanimous decision last week by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, that tossed out a county law that shifted the cost of refunds to towns, school districts and other taxing entities.
It's estimated that Nassau now owes about $500 million in refunds. And with more and more commercial and residential property owners grieving assessments each year, the county's burden is certain to grow.
Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county's financial control board, said NIFA will press Nassau to explain how it intends to pay off that liability.
But he said county and town officials are going to have to decide how to solve the overall assessment problem.
"They are the elected officials," Kaiman said. "The responsibility rests with them."
When he served as North Hempstead's Democratic town supervisor, Kaiman had suggested that towns could do the job better than the county -- where a broken assessment system has for decades been a key source of Nassau's fiscal problems.
On Friday, Mangano said he believes there are two ways to stem, and possibly even turn, the tide on the crisis.
The first is for Nassau to maintain responsibility for calculating assessments, but change the system's margin of error for assessments to make successful appeals more difficult. Mangano pitched that idea unsuccessfully once before.
The second is to take the job away from Nassau, and distribute it to the three towns, on the theory that they know their communities and could more accurately compare home values.
"We are willing to listen, sit down, talk and hear what he has to say," Michael Deery, a spokesman for Republican-run Hempstead, said of Mangano.
Republican-run Oyster Bay, Mangano's hometown, "stands ready, as always, to listen to County Executive Mangano's proposal regarding this issue," according to a statement.
Officials in North Hempstead, Nassau's smallest and only Democrat-controlled town, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit Nassau lost last week, also has indicated a willingness to consider a proposal from Mangano.
Mangano said he intends to sit down with all three town supervisors, but first he wants to talk to officials in Albany, probably within the next few weeks. "The court made clear that is where the solution is going to be," he said.
What could Albany -- which, for now, is tied up in state budget negotiations -- do?
It could support Mangano's plan to change the margin of error on assessment calculations. Or Mangano could -- and this, frankly, would be more helpful -- make a pitch for funding to help pay off Nassau's backlog, along with supporting funding to help towns to take on the task.
The current assessment system works best for the cottage industry of lawyers and firms that handle assessment appeals. It's long past time for something new.