County GOP wants phone operator hired at Assessment Dept.

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The Nassau County GOP introduced a slate of reforms for the county assessment process in July. (Photo courtesy of the Nassau County Legislature)

The Nassau County GOP is making a push to force the county Department of Assessment to have a human answer the phone. 

A bill introduced last Wednesday would require the department to have a dedicated phone line operated by a live person from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on days county offices are open. 

The department’s listed phone number currently is answered by an automated greeting that refers callers to AsktheAssessor.com. 

Republican officials said the bill comes after they have heard multiple complaints from constituents. 

“The Department of Assessment is a major point of contact with our constituents, many of whom are deeply troubled about the county executive’s reassessment plan,” said Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) in a statement. “The administration’s outreach plan has been inadequate and there continues to be great concern by residents, who are seeking answers about their assessed value, exemptions, the effect of the phase-in and many other issues.” 

In early August, the county’s frequently asked questions page listed an email, TPPQuestions@nassaucountyny.gov, as a preferred alternative method to calling the department because inadequate staffing levels did not allow the department to handle a high volume of phone calls. 

The email did not work for a number of days, however, and instead returned a response that the email address could not be found.

Nicolello said there was no excuse for the department’s failure to hire people with clerical experience to answer the phones. 

If the legislation is enacted, the Department of Assessment would be required within 15 days to develop and publish a written procedure to direct telephone calls from residents to a person who has knowledge in the subject area of the resident’s question on the department’s website. The department would also have to provide the resident with a document detailing the response provided over the phone, either in electronic or written correspondence depending on the resident’s preference. 

The “Answer the Phone” bill is expected to go before Legislature committees Sept. 9.

The Republican majority of the county Legislature has introduced a series of reforms packaged into the “Assessment Bill of Rights,” two of which were approved at August’s legislature meeting. 

The two approved bills require the county Department of Assessment to release data and formulas used to determine fair market values of Nassau homes and mandate the county to notify taxpayers of a tentative assessment by mail in addition to email.

Justine DiGiglio, spokeswoman for Democratic County Executive Laura  Curran, said the recent flurry of legislation comes after the county GOP ignored the corrupt assessment system for eight years.

“The residents of Nassau will not forget their inaction during the Mangano administration’s years of neglect and incompetence as the assessment system rotted,” she said. “This latest piece of illegal legislation is another attempt at distracting from the past.”

Home values in Nassau County had been frozen for nearly 10 years until Curran undertook the countywide reassessment in an effort to make the county’s assessment roll more defensible in order to avoid issuing reductions to those who grieve their property taxes, she said. 

The “county guarantee,” a law set forth in the 1940s, requires the county to fully refund property tax overpayments, despite only receiving a small percentage of the overpaid funds, which are divided between the county and the county’s school districts and towns. The towns and school districts get to keep their portions of the overpayment, while the county has to pay back more money than it receives. 

A study conducted by Newsday concluded the grievance practice “intended to reduce costs of tax refunds, has shifted about $2.2 billion in taxes from generally more affluent property owners who successfully appealed their property taxes over their values over seven years to generally less affluent owners who did not.” 

An April analysis from the newspaper found the 2020-21 tentative assessment roll to be fair and accurate. 

 

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