Nassau County Democratic lawmakers are criticizing the property tax assessment system reforms being rolled out by County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and detailing flaws that they say continue to be found despite the administration’s overhaul of the system.
Legislators Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) and Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) were joined by homeowners at a news conference in Mineola Tuesday, where they outlined nagging issues with the error-plagued property tax assessment and grievance system. Mangano has said that reforms he has enacted to the tax assessment system will take time to fully take effect.
“Instead of reform, we’re seeing regression,” Denenberg said, taking issue with the limited availability of information during the eight-week window for homeowners to challenge their property tax assessment—a window that will be closed in less than a month. He and Wink said a lack of transparency leaves homeowners in the dark and forces them to hire attorneys that receive 50 percent of the refund.
“It is unfortunate that Legislator Denenberg and Legislator Wink chose to engage in partisan politics to simply grab a quick headline,” a Mangano spokesman said in a statement. “The truth remains that County Executive Mangano inherited a broken assessment system that wastes $250 million annually and has resulted in $1.6 billion in debt and outstanding liabilities.”
But Denenberg and Wink said the devil is in the details of Mangano’s attempts to fix the problem.
They highlighted the difficulties five Nassau County homeowners had while attempting to navigate the grievance system before time runs out. Chief among the issues is that letters from the county detailing assessed property values have been sent out late. Information in those letters is crucial to homeowners challenging property tax assessments.
Joseph Andretta of Seaford said he only received his assessment letter on Saturday. Worse still, the letter said his assessment went down but his taxes went up.
Denenberg said Andretta’s taxes went up because neighboring houses had even higher reductions, which means he has to pay higher taxes.
But Mangano said a number of factors can result in higher taxes, including court orders, exemptions and shifts in value.
Denenberg said he, too, received his assessment letter last Saturday.
“Dave is one of the lucky ones … that he received his tentative assessment letter,” Wink said. “To date I still have not received my tentative assessment letter. And I’m not alone, I’m told that there are thousands of households that still have less than two weeks before the deadline to file a challenge have not received their letter.”
Wink said homeowners can get their assessment letter online, but many homeowners don’t know how. Not that the Internet is a cure-all, either.
Steve Kaplan, 67, of Port Washington, said his efforts to file a property tax assessment grievance on his own have been frustrated by a lack of detailed information on the county Department of Assessment website—only a vague classification of his home’s assessed value from the prior year instead of details like the results of the prior grievance and the formula used.
“They took transparency and they veiled it, we now have a veiled transparency,” Kaplan said. “Can you imagine being arrested and being charged with a crime and they’re not going to tell you what the crime is? How can we have a system like this, it’s just not fair.”
For one of those who won a property tax assessment challenge on their own, getting the award to stick has proven nearly impossible.
“I’m still waiting for this assessment that was awarded to me in October of last year,” said Ed Raboy of North Bellmore, who won his past three assessment challenges. “It has still not reflected in any of my paperwork, so I have to challenge every year because it still doesn’t show up.”
Denenberg and Wink said they proposed legislation to resolve such problems from occurring in the future.
Mangano, for his part, has been working on reforms that include freezing property tax assessments for the four years and phasing out the practice of borrowing to pay for the $100 million annual worth of tax refunds that are issued, a practice widely attributed to nearly bankrupting the county.
“The County Executive has implemented numerous reforms to the system to correct the problems and stop the waste,” the county executive said in his statement. “Legislator Denenberg and his Democrat colleagues messed up the system so badly that it cannot be corrected overnight.
“The former Democrat Majority failed taxpayers by sitting idle for a decade as the system got worse and wasted taxpayer money. Legislator Denenberg had the power to fix the system but instead sided with wealthy special interest groups who got rich and filled the Democrat campaign coffers while they were robbing taxpayers.”