Nassau County may eventually get to a fair system of taxing property owners, but it won’t be without a fight.
Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton is the latest county official to call for slowing the process of accurately assessing property values – the basis on which property owners are taxed.
“I think it is irresponsible for the government to implement dramatic assessment increases in one fell swoop,” DeRiggi-Whitton said in a letter to the editor published in Blank Slate Media last week. “Trying to rebalance the assessment system in a single year will impose huge financial burdens on a significant number of homeowners who simply cannot afford to absorb steep tax increases all at once.”
What DeRiggio-Whitton failed to mention was that these “huge” increases will reflect the “huge” amount in which these property owners underpaid their taxes the past eight years.
And that to make up for these “huge” underpayments, other property owners made “huge overpayments.”
That’s the way assessments work. The amount of money raised stays the same. It’s just a matter of who pays.
The former Republican administration of Edward Mangano had begun a systematic review of county assessments last year — six years after Mangano froze assessment increases while his administration granted thousands of reductions to homeowners who grieved their values.
A Newsday study found the practice, “intended to reduce the cost of tax refunds, had 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.”
When DeRiggi-Whitton asks for a go-slow approach, she is essentially asking for less affluent property owners to continue to overpay their taxes to ease the sticker shock of more affluent taxpayers who haven’t been paying their fair share.
This is known as afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable.
DeRiggi-Whitton seemed to justify this approach with a defense of the assessment system for the past eight years.
“Homeowners who have been diligent in exercising their legal right to challenge their assessments in the past will likely be the hardest hit,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “This is simply unacceptable to me.”
Sorry, but taxpayers should expect that the county will assess their homes accurately and tax them fairly.
They should not be expected to appeal their assessment, often through law firms that receive a cut of the money saved and line the campaign coffers of county legislators running for office.
DeRiggi-Whitton is not alone in her concern for the more affluent homeowners.
Republican legislators, who watched for eight years as the Mangano administration not only kept assessments frozen but also refused to hire a professional assessor, have also called for the go-slow approach.
And even County Executive Laura Curran has joined their side.
To her credit, Curran touched off the rush to aid the people who have been underpaying their taxes by signing an executive order requiring the county assessor to maximize the accuracy of what Nassau bases property tax rates on.
This was intended to allow the county to successfully defend against tax challenges and avoid the need for mass settlements and excessive refunds beginning with the 2020-21 tax year.
Not a crazy idea in a cash-strapped county like Nassau, which owes more than $700 million to property owners who appealed their assessments.
But Curran recently said she will ask the newly elected Democratic-controlled state Legislature to allow the new values to be phased in over five years, to prevent sudden spikes in tax bills for homeowners whose properties were far below fair market value.
Those who will face sudden spikes have been underpaying their taxes for years. They should be happy that they got away with paying far less than they should have and accept that they now need to pay their fair share.
The optics of this also couldn’t be worse.
Here you have one of the most affluent counties in the state, whose finances remain under state supervision, appealing to the new state Legislature for dispensation for their more affluent taxpayers at a time the county is looking for more state aid. We can only imagine what legislators from New York City and upstate New York will think.
We also wonder what the people who have been overpaying their taxes will think.
Just how does the county tell them that they need to continue to subsidize the more affluent property owners for five more years?
Imagine if you learned that you have been overcharged by PSEG for the past seven years and then learn it will be another five years for you to be asked to pay what you actually owe.
Can you say Public Service Commission?
The state Legislature should reject the county’s request to phase in properties being assessed accurately.
Property owners should be taxed what they owe, not one cent more and not one cent less. And that should start now.
If learning the real cost of government makes some property owners unhappy, let them demand that the county, schools and special districts who make up our tax bills cut spending.
Or vote out the officials who at best stood by as this mess was created in the first place.