Charles Berman, who is running for re-election as Town of North Hempstead receiver of taxes, defended his work while his opponent, Port Washington resident Ron Rochester, criticized the tax office as inefficient.
Berman said he wanted to make it clear that he does not intend to run for any other office now or in the future.
“I’ve had plenty of opportunities to take other government positions, but you can quote me on not running for any other position,” he said in a sitdown interview with Blank Slate Media.
Berman, a Democrat who was elected to a one-year term during a special election in November 2010, was elected to a full term the next year.
Since then, the Roslyn Heights resident has overseen the annual mailing of over 180,000 tax bills, the transmission of 100,000 electronic bills to tax service organizations and the receipt and processing of more than 288,000 tax payments.
This is the first year that Rochester, a Republican, has thrown his hat into the ring for the position, and he brings over 25 years of law enforcement experience, with forensic accounting and CPA work. He is now a state-licensed private investigator.
“Within the government, you analyze the values of properties, land, homes, etc.,” he said during a sitdown interview. “I think my varied experience and knowledge can be beneficial for the town.”
Rochester expressed frustration with the town’s “antiquated” online tax payment system. He also said that he has heard many residents complain of the “difficulties and inefficiency” of the system.
“Aside from the site being difficult to navigate, I think that we need to spend the right amount of time and money to have this up to 21st century standards,” he said. “There should also be some incentives for people who pay their taxes earlier.”
He listed potential ideas for the town’s Tax Department such as hiring more service-oriented people, having a drive-thru window for people to drop off their bills and offering tax discounts for those who pay early.
Berman disputed Rochester’s claim about the site’s inefficiency and said that the safety and security of people’s personal information should always be the first priority.
“It’s easy to navigate, it’s not antiquated, and it’s very, very safe,” he said. “We’ve heard of so many data breaches in this country, that would keep me up at night if I wasn’t reassured that these people’s information is safe and secure.”
Both candidates were asked about the county’s tax reassessment phase-in plan implemented by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Assessor David Moog. The county executive seeks to phase in increases and decreases in homeowners’ tax bills over five years.
“First of all, the Department of Assessment hadn’t been assessing properties since 2009,” Berman said. “I tried as hard as I could to make sure the public was aware of this. I think that the reassessment they did is probably going to be proven accurate on the methods and data they had at their disposal.”
Berman also mentioned that, without a phase-in for residents who overpaid or underpaid their taxes, people would get “incredibly angry.”
Rochester said that he was displeased with the eight-year absence of an assessment prior to Curran and Moog stepping in last year. He also said that the current reassessment system is not ideal.
“I think they were both bad,” he said. “I think the new plan is very confusing and has unnecessary steps for residents to deal with. Now, I guess you have to do a phase-in, even though somebody is going to get hurt either way, but plenty of things should have been done to prevent this.”
Berman cited his experience as a reason to believe he is the ideal candidate to remain at this position.
“I’m the one who has the background and the expertise on this position,” he said. “I believe this department, under my supervision, has been known to be one of the most helpful town departments. I don’t care about politics, I just want the best people for the job to ensure our residents’ finances are handled properly.”
Rochester cited his public service experience and work ethic in making his case to be elected.
“I think it’s important to get a new, fresh set of eyes in the department,” he said. “I know how to properly analyze data, and know what the residents of our town want. I’ve worked hard my entire life, and will remain to do so if I am elected.”