Our Views: County’s broken assessment system

Grace McQuade

Ever wonder why you receive so many mailings from firms offering to challenge your property taxes for you?

The answer is simple – they work.

In 2016, 183,048 tax certiorari grievances were filed in 2016 by residential and commercial property owners — the highest number on record and even more than were filed after the 2003 countywide reassessment.

“That total number includes 162,202 residential protests compared to 141,043 in 2003 when homeowners were notified of their reassessed values after the first revaluation in more than 60 years,” according a report in Newsday.

The tax certiorari firms are not alone in encouraging property owners to challenge the assessed value of their homes in an effort to lower their taxes.

They are joined by a wide array of public officials including Nassau County legislators, who help oversee the county assessment system that taxpayers so frequently challenge.

Despite the county’s ongoing financial problem, these legislators provide advice and host workshops to instruct taxpayers on how to pay less in property taxes — often with the aid of taxpayer-funded mailings.

Some might ask if the legislators’ time and money would be better spent fixing an assessment system that virtually every public official in Nassau County agrees is broken.

But, apparently, they don’t live around here.

One thing the legislators are right about is their contention that the county assessment system is broken.

How broken?

The county has agreed to reduce assessments for more than 75 percent of those who filed challenges since 2011 when Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano initiated the “residential settlement program” as a way of reducing the approximately $20 million in residential refunds the county was paying each year. And while he was at it he froze assessments that were generated on Jan. 1, 2011, except for new construction or additions.

With the yearly reduction in assessments, the county’s total taxable assessed valuation, which was nearly $873.5 million in 2010, has dropped to $601.1 million in 2016 — a 28.21 percent drop, according to Newsday.

The Newsday report noted that in comparison, home values in Nassau over the same period have increased 12.2 percent, according to Miller Samuel, a Manhattan-based appraisal company that tracks Long Island home sales.

The good fortune of the many people who win reductions in their assessments is not shared by everyone.

The reduced assessments translate into reduced taxes, but not the cost of schools, special districts and town and village governments for which the taxes help pay.

So someone has got to make up the lost revenue. That would be everyone else – those who did not bother to grieve their taxes and those who were turned down.

Hence the conventional wisdom that anyone who doesn’t grieve their taxes in Nassau County is foolish. Hence the 183,048 grievances in 2016.

This is not exactly an endorsement of county government and the quality of its assessment system, although it is very popular with the six firms who dominate the tax certiorari business in Nassau County.

They were among the largest contributors to Mangano’s last campaign for county executive.

Adam Haber, a former commodities broker and former member of NIFA who recently ran unsuccessfully for state Senate, has a sensible solution to the problem.

He recommended in a Blank Slate Media column that commercial properties be reassessed yearly, and residential properties every three years.

This sounds reasonable, but of course assumes county officials actually want a solution to the problem.

Acting county Assessor James Davis said the county intended to start to reassess properties in 2013, but that effort was halted by superstorm Sandy.

But, he said, a systematic review is underway that will allow the county “to capture the current housing market values in the future.”

We’ll believe it when we see it.

In the meantime, candidates from both sides of the aisle are gearing up for runs for county executive this fall.

This would be a good time to make sure that the next person elected county executive ends this charade.

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