Nassau County Executive Laura Curran defended her administration’s handling of property re-assessments and emphasized the importance of economic revitalization at a Blank Slate Media forum last Thursday night, while also fielding questions about marijuana and ICE.
More than 100 people attended the “On the Record” event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, where Blank Slate Media Publisher Steve Blank and several attendees honed in on several county issues.
Curran said the assessment rolls were frozen about a decade ago by the Mangano administration, leading to what she termed “wild” inaccuracies. People who grieved their taxes, contending they had overpaid, also ended up essentially subsidized by people who did not grieve, Curran said.
The assessment rolls were frozen in 2011 by the Edward Mangano administration. Thousands of residents, meanwhile, filed grievances on the value of their homes – costing the county millions of dollars and shifting the burden onto others who did not challenge their assessments.
Curran came into office vowing to fix the assessment system and quickly unfroze the assessment roll, before moving to reassess every parcel of land at a 0.10 percent level of assessment.
At the same time, Curran said the county has been working to restaff a decimated assessment and assessment review department. She also said that calls for County Assessor David Moog to resign were “just terrible,” while blasting Republicans for not hiring a qualified assessor amid the freeze.
“It almost makes me think, ‘How dare you?’” Curran said. “Finally we have a credentialed assessor doing the work and then to call for his resignation – is the status quo better?”
County Republican Legislators, including Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) had called for Moog’s resignation in late January, citing tens of thousands of errors like missed deadlines and misleading information.
Asked about why the assessment change should be implemented over five years, as pitched in the Taxpayer Protection Plan now included in the state budget, Curran said that would make it more gradual.
“And to those who say, I’m going to be continuing to overpay, I’m going to say that if we did not fix this, you would continue to overplay even more. We’ve got to get this right,” Curran said. “This shows why it’s so incredibly important to get things right – so you have everyone shouldering their fair share.”
Curran also emphasized the importance of economic development, while expressing disappointment that Amazon decided not to locate its second headquarters in Long Island City.
Curran said Amazon would have helped revitalize the downtowns, made the case for transit-oriented development, grown the tax base, attracted more business to New York and helped ancillary businesses in the county.
Amazon had promised to create at least 25,000 jobs over 10 years, while officials estimated it would bring in about $27 billion in new tax revenue. In exchange, state and New York City officials had offered $3 billion in incentives.
“It felt like a body blow when I found out what was going to happen,” Curran said of Amazon’s decision to pull out.
Blank asked how the $3 billion in breaks could be justified, considering Amazon is not paying federal taxes on $11 billion in profits and seemed to be getting an unfair advantage compared to small businesses.
Curran said she understood the argument, but that the $27 billion would have gone to extra train stations, beefing up infrastructure and transportation networks, and “would have burnished our brand as a region to say, ‘Yes, we are open for business.”
“To make it even harder [to do business here] is doing all of us a disservice,” Curran said. “We have to really think seriously about how we’re going to embrace the 21st century, making sure that we’re growing our tax base and reversing the brain drain.”
Blank asked about what role local officials have in fighting new enterprises, as seen with Charles Wang’s proposed Lighthouse Project, a massive redevelopment project involving Nassau Coliseum, as well as possible marijuana dispensaries and off-track betting lottery machines.
Curran said communities have legitimate concerns, which is why it’s important to work with them right from the get-go and for local officials to show “a little bit of courage.”
“You can’t really impose it on communities, but you can work together with them to make it happen,” Curran said.
Asked specifically about the possibility of opting out of marijuana sales should the state legalize the drug for recreational use, Curran said she wanted to wait on the recommendations of the county’s task force.
Curran also said the unanimous approval of the Nassau Hub around Nassau Coliseum, which would essentially be a new Long Island downtown complete with apartment complexes for young adults, a Northwell Innovation Center, retail outlets and hotels, “a real reason for optimism.”
Several audience members also asked questions, ranging from revamping the permit process to help local downtowns to the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Bradley Diamond, a real estate broker Lee & Associates in Great Neck, said one of the biggest problems is the permit process, which can involve building departments across several municipalities.
He then asked if there was anything that could be done to streamline the process.
Curran said there are plans to convene officials from the towns, cities and a representative from the Nassau County Village Officials Associations “just to begin that conversation of how we can do that.”
“The tricky part is each of these municipalities covets what it does and what it is in charge of,” Curran said. “I’m curious to see through this conversation if any of them are willing to open that up a little bit and work together.”
The presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, in a trailer at the county jail in East Meadow and Nassau County more broadly was also concerning to many questioners.
One of them was Osman Canales, a longtime immigrants rights activist. He asked if Curran would support a memorandum of understanding between police and schools to not send information to ICE.
“I want to express how unsettling it is to have ICE at the county jail because it puts our community at risk,” Canales said. “There are cases where individuals without any conviction have been taken by ICE because ICE is located by the jails.”
Curran said that if someone is innocent, they are safe, and that the county is currently working to relocate ICE where it is “suitable” for everyone.
“[The job of the police] is not to take people who are going to school, going to work, going about their business and cart them off,” Curran said. “That is not their job and that is not what they do.”