Editorial: Good news on assessments brings silence

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about Newsday’s recent analysis of Nassau County’s property reassessment has been the response of public officials. Or lack thereof.

The analysis found “that the new assessments are well within every major professional standard of accuracy and fairness.”

One would have expected an outpouring of gratitude for a fix to a system that was anything but fair or accurate and under which half the county’s property owners overpaid their property taxes.

According to the Newsday report, $2.7 billion in property taxes was shifted over the eight years in which no reassessment was done from people who challenged their property taxes to those who didn’t.

The people who hadn’t challenged their property taxes – generally younger, less affluent and more likely to be members of a minority group – were assessed at a level 29.2 percent greater than those who did, Newsday reported.

But Republican county legislators, who have repeatedly challenged the accuracy of the reassessment, said nothing following Newsday’s report.

In fact, there is no indication that they have even given up on their idea of holding a referendum to make the county assessor an elected position rather than one appointed by the county executive.

This raises a couple of questions. One is: Do Republican legislators actually want an accurate and fair assessment system?

Republicans legislators have pointed to several miscues made in the rollout of the county’s reassessment system in calling for the referendum and the removal of County Assessor David Moog, a certified assessor appointed by County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat.

But they said nothing during Republican County Executive Ed Mangano’s eight years in office when this mess developed.

During this time, Mangano never appointed a certified assessor, allowed an exodus of professionals from the assessor’s office and never reassessed county property.

A second question is: What information are Republican legislators relying on to make proposals about Moog and the county assessor’s office?

And perhaps more importantly: Why is it left to a newspaper to conduct studies on the county’s assessment system and not the Legislature? Isn’t oversight of county assessments their job?

This is not the first time the public has been forced to rely on Newsday for a meaningful study of the system that determines how much they pay in property taxes.

Newsday presented the full scope of Nassau County’s broken reassessment system in 2017 in a story titled “Separate & Unequal: Nassau Tax Shift.”

One might have thought that the Legislature would learn its lesson the first time and begin doing the type of study undertaken by Newsday to try to address the dysfunctional system created under Mangano while they silently watched.

Curran deserves much credit for appointing a competent county assessor and quickly undertaking a countywide reassessment.

This was more than a matter of fairness, though that should be enough.

But thanks to a county assessment system in which property owners were actually encouraged to challenge their taxes,  Nassau paid tens of millions of dollars to those who did each year.

The new system does not prevent property owners from challenging their assessment and any assessment system will be imperfect. But the Newsday study shows that the reassessment will greatly reduce the number and amount of awards.

This is not an unimportant situation for a county, whose finances have been under state supervision since 2000 and has consistently struggled to balance its budget.

Still, Curran has focused less on her success in fixing the broken assessment system than her proposed five-year phase-in of the assessment changes, which recently won approval in the state Legislature but still needs approval by the county Legislature.

We’d like to think the county Legislature’s failure to approve the phase-in had to do with a newfound sense of fairness on their part.

After all, the five-year phase-in means that the 50 percent of property owners who have been overpaying their property for the last eight years will continue to overpay their property taxes for the next few years. Just by smaller amounts.

And the 50 percent of property owners who have been underpaying their taxes for the past eight years – who are generally older, whiter and more affluent – will continue to underpay their property taxes. Just by smaller amounts.

This is like responding to a hurricane by having people who suffered storm damage make payments to people whose homes weren’t damaged.

But we suspect the Republican legislators’ delay has more to do with exploiting the unhappiness of people who now have to pay more for political gain. Or perhaps they hope a lawsuit brought by four Sands Point residents to delay the reassessment will succeed?

They lent strong support to that theory by announcing Tuesday they would attempt to override Curran’s veto of the proposed referendum.

To add injury to injury, those overpaying their taxes often live in school districts that spend less per pupil than those underpaying their taxes.

The lower spending per pupil, which usually means fewer services, hurts at least the perceived quality of a school district, according to Multiple Listing Services statistics compiled by Oxford Realty agent.

And, in turn, it negatively affects the value of their homes.

“The home values go directly up and down depending upon the perception of the quality of the school district,” Mitchell Pally, the CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, told Blank Slate Media.

And yet both Nassau County Democrats and Republicans have focused their efforts on easing the burden of those who have underpaid their taxes.

Still, we must give credit where credit is due. Curran has taken the steps to fix the assessment system and property owners may pay what they really owe – eventually.

 

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