Shortly after Ed Mangano was sworn in as county executive in January, 2010, he announced with much fanfare, a commission of “wise people” charged with recommending genuine reforms that would ensure that the disastrous assessment system was equitable, efficient and would finally end the county’s addiction to long-term borrowing to pay current tax refunds.
The commission’s report, however, never saw the light of day.
Instead, Mangano implemented a dubious program that forces homeowners to challenge their assessments annually.
The consequence: a $1.7 billion tax burden has shifted to those less savvy homeowners who did not appeal their property tax rate.
Now, Nassau’s freshman state senator, John Brooks, has entered the fray with a proposal he argues is a “low-cost system that replaces tax refund checks with tax credits as a means of reducing the huge expenses associated with successful assessment challenges.”
Based on summary plan information, the Brooks’ plan appears to be worthy of further study, as it may provide a means to lessen the budgetary impact of payments for assessment certiorari settlements.
What is interesting about the Brooks’ plan, is that it doesn’t rely on any of the extraordinary (and historically untenable) actions on which prior proposals are predicated.
Whatever merit those ideas may have, they are long-game efforts, and the county’s continuing budgetary crisis — despite ludicrous assertions about the existence of a “borrowed surplus” from the county executive and the county comptroller — requires action which can be effected quickly.
The Brooks’ plan doesn’t presume or propose state legislation to end the “County Guarantee,” which forces the County to repay property taxes it never received, on behalf of school districts, towns, villages and special districts which did receive the money.
It doesn’t presume that the county fixes the assessment system which is in such dire need of corrective action; instead, it presumes that the county doesn’t fix the system.
In short, it seems to be a clear-eyed analysis, focused on budgetary realities.
At a high level, what the Brooks’ plan, once fully fleshed out and executed, would do is to ameliorate the budgetary impacts of the broken assessment system, but do so in a way that focuses taxpayers (and, for the politicians who might be concerned, voters) on the effects of the county not fixing the assessment system.
By cutting off tax settlements toward the end of a given year, in time to precede the setting of the tax roll for the following year, and paying settlements with tax credits, rather than by writing large checks, the effects of the payments can be reflected in the tax rolls for the next year, with a shift among taxpayers of the same total tax dollar pool.
In other words, once the credits are established as a means of paying certiorari claims, they would be reflected in the tax rolls in a way that allows the same dollar amount of property taxes to be raised, with more being shouldered by those who didn’t grieve and settle.
So, if the total property taxes to be raised were $900 million, $900 million would be what is taxed. And there would be no expense for any refunds.
At a secondary level, the Brooks’ plan would also seek to have the costs of the settlements borne by the taxpayers in close proximity to the settling party.
In other words, if I were to grieve and settle, the cost of my tax credit would be spread among the residents of the Town of North Hempstead, the Village of New Hyde Park and the New Hyde Park School District.
The taxpayers on the South Shore wouldn’t pay for my settlement, and I wouldn’t be bailing out the good people of the Village of Garden City.
The high-level portion can be characterized as the budgetary solution.
The secondary portion can be characterized as the “tax justice” element of that solution.
Given that the secondary level could be more difficult to effect, it is important to note that the high-level plan appears worthy of study on its own merits as a budgetary solution, and the entire plan could be viewed as one worthy of exploration for implementation in phases.