Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman clashed on the impact of the county’s reassessment process during a Newsday forum on Friday.
Curran, a Democrat seeking re-election, called for the reassessment of approximately 400,000 homes in 2018 after the county’s assessment roll had been frozen since 2008. Statistics released by Curran in May 2019 estimated that 55 percent of Nassau County homeowners would see a decrease in their property taxes due to the reassessment, exemptions and a proposed five-year phase-in.
Two years later, Curran stood by the results of the reassessment, despite Republican legislators and elected officials across the county being critical of its effectiveness.
“I am very proud of the fact that when I got into office, I was able to turn chronic deficits … into consecutive surpluses without raising property taxes,” Curran said. “In fact, we’re now in a position to save the taxpayers $150 million over the next four years.”
Curran referred to a review of the reassessment conducted by the state touting its accuracy.
Blakeman, a Republican who served as the liaison between Nassau County’s Republican Party and former President Donald Trump, said Curran’s reassessment was done in a “shoddy, faulty manner.” Blakeman said a new reassessment should be conducted to balance out the values between residents who overpaid and underpaid.
“Nobody’s quarreling that there shouldn’t have been a reassessment, but it was done in a very slipshod manner and I will fix it,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman said his plan calls for the $120 million in surplus funds to be returned to the taxpayers, while saying some residents’ taxes have been raised by thousands of dollars.
Blakeman also criticized Curran for a recently passed initiative to provide eligible homeowners with direct payments of $375. The checks were more than half of the $193 million Nassau received as part of the American Rescue Plan.
“Now she has this big chunk of money that she’s been saving up because it’s an election year, to make some kind of political ploy, thinking people will vote for her because she’s giving people $375,” Blakeman said.
“My opponent has called this ‘peanuts,’” Curran said. “If you’re going grocery shopping for your family, that’s groceries for a week. That’s a car payment. That’s back-to-school clothes for your kids.”
Curran, whose 2022 proposed budget includes a $70 million tax cut, touted the county’s improved financial state as the reason Nassau does not need to hold onto the $100 million in federal funds. Curran and Blakeman both touted their efforts to provide residents with coronavirus testing and vaccination opportunities, along with feeding those who were less fortunate during the pandemic.
In terms of vaccinations, Curran said she is in full support of residents receiving their shots, while Blakeman said it is important to respect each individual’s decision to get inoculated or not.
“We’re number one for a reason,” Curran said, touting the resources and information the county has provided to residents. “We’re doing great and we’re not done yet.”
Blakeman criticized the county for a “slow” rollout of vaccination efforts and lauded the work he was a part of in the town.
“We decided right away we needed to buy a mobile vaccination van, we needed to bring the vaccinations to the people,” he said. “We were proactive, we got on it right away, we didn’t wait to see what was going to happen.”
Both candidates said they were fully vaccinated.
In terms of public safety, Curran, who has received endorsements from two county police unions, touted Nassau’s efforts in keeping residents safe and referred to a U.S. News & World Report deeming it the safest county in America for the second year in a row. Blakeman said the publication only took the “spoonfed” statistics from the county and said they were not reflective of what really happened over the past year, due to the pandemic.
Curran, 53 previously served as a member of the Baldwin Board of Education before serving as a county legislator until 2017, when she was elected as county executive.
Blakeman, 65, also served as commissioner of the Port Authority and the Town of Hempstead’s deputy supervisor under former Supervisor Laura Gillen.