Sands Point residents threaten litigation against county over reassessment

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Eric Berliner, Sands Point resident, speaking at Monday night's reassessment hearing. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

Two residents from Sands Point discussed planned litigation against Nassau County over  their assessed home values at Monday night’s reassessment hearing at Mineola Middle School.

Eric Berliner, a resident of Sands Point who said his taxes were expected to increase by $40,000 at the December hearing, said he was planning to sue the county for what he believes were extensive defects in the assessments of high-end homes on the North Shore.

He said he had two meetings with Nassau County Assessor David Moog and the entire assessment office as well as Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) and Bill Biamonte, the spokesman for the county’s Democratic lawmakers.

In one of the meetings, Berliner said Moog was asked by Curran whether or not he could defend the assessments of high-end homes.

When Berliner asked Moog to repeat his response at the hearing, a representative from the Nassau County attorney’s office said he had advised Moog to not directly answer Berliner’s questions due to the threatened litigation against the county.

Instead, DeRiggi-Whitton responded and said that Moog stated during their private meeting that he could not defend the assessment roll for high-end homes.

In a telephone interview, Berliner said he is planning to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the county toward the end of April. He expects it to be a class action.

Sands Point resident Dan Khazai said he is also looking to sue Nassau County to get part of the money back from what he considers overpayment of taxes in the past.

Khazai said he has had his home appraised each year since his property taxes doubled a couple of years ago and began filing tax grievances.

He said this year his house was appraised at $3.8 million but the county has it assessed at $5.6 million.

“They have an appraisal from last year, from this year,” Khazai said. “And I still have to continue to fight it.”

He said he had overpaid about $125,000 total in the two to three years before he began grieving and each year since, his taxes have come down about 25 percent.

Lawrence Ruisi, a resident of Glen Head in finance, said that the most accurate way to assess a home is through appraisals.

He said the multiregression model that the county is using to calculate the assessment “would be like using a rotary phone” today.

In addition, he said the model is only as good as the data that is put into it and the county’s use of comparable sales is not as reliable as appraisals.

If the Department of Assessment was able to conduct appraisals in certain segments of the population, Ruisi said, the assessors would reach a more definitive value.

He said it is difficult to infuse variables such as the amount of usable land on a property and the proximity to busy roads into a model using comparable sales.

The formula that the modeling software used to calculate assessed values was a topic that generated concern at the hearing because it has not been released to residents.

Dennis Duffy, a resident of Lynbrook, said he submitted a Freedom of Information Law request and asked for the formula that was used to reach his assessed value and received a response that it could not be released due to claims of the formula being a trade secret.

He then sent a letter to the New York State Committee on Open Government and received a response from the assistant director, Kristin O’Neill.

She said she is unable to offer an opinion on whether the algorithm is a trade secret without further information from the vendor or the county

However, she said that since the vendor’s algorithm is used to calculate residential property values, it is the committee’s view that neither the vendor or the county “should be permitted to claim trade secret status over the algorithm.”

In a news conference on Tuesday, Hempstead Tax Receiver Donald Clavin called for the county to reveal the assessment formula and criticized Curran, a Democrat, for describing the reassessment process as open and transparent.

“Laura Curran’s reassessment has been filled with missteps, errors, and anything but openness and transparency,” he said. “We are asking the county executive to respect and abide by [the Committee on Open Government’s] decision which says they should not be hiding this information.”

Clavin, a Republican, is running against Laura Gillen for Hempstead town supervisor.

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