Bill may help over-assessed homeowners

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A new bill in the State Legislature would grant homeowners whose properties were over-assessed a tax credit for the five years during which Nassau County plans to phase in its new assessments. Under the bill, which Assemblyman Ed Ra, a Republican from Franklin Square, introduced early in October, individuals making $500,000 or less whose property tax savings would be delayed for five years during the phase-in can apply for a tax relief credit from the state.
The state tax commissioner would then work with local assessors to review the applications and determine how much each resident would receive. No tax credits would be available after the county’s five-year phase-in process concludes. “I’ve spoken to constituents who are on both sides of this — constituents that are very concerned with a large increase in their taxes that’s coming and constituents that are saying, ‘Wait a minute, you’re telling me my house is over-assessed, and then you’re telling me I have to wait five years?’” Ra said at a news conference on the bill on Oct. 22. “Neither side of them is really happy. But the bottom line is, doing something like this is the one way I think that we can try to help both sides of that equation.” County Executive Laura Curran proposed the five-year phase-in earlier this year to protect homeowners “from abrupt increases while we continue to repair the damage caused by eight years of a frozen tax roll and a corrupted assessment system,” she told the Herald. She estimated that half of the county’s homeowners “will be protected from any immediate property tax increases” this way. Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the phase-in in this year’s state budget, and the Legislature approved the plan in April. But it still needs to be approved by the County Legislature, where many Republicans have criticized it. Legislator Steve Rhoads, from Bellmore, for example, said that the Republican majority has not approved it “because we thought that there was a better deal out there for taxpayers” than having those who were over-assessed wait five years before they see any relief, “and Assemblyman Ra’s bill represents the fact that there is a better deal out there for taxpayers.” Rhoads is running for re-election against challenger Jill Levine. Ra also said that the phase-in pits taxpayers against one another, because those whose taxes will increase from the reassessment process will have a grace period to pay, while those who were over-assessed would have to continue paying over the five years. Ra added that his bill, which does not have a number yet, “would allow those homeowners to become whole.” Democrats, however, have criticized his bill as a political stunt. William Biamonte, the county’s minority caucus chief of staff, said in a statement that if the Republicans were worried about the phase-in, they would have raised their concerns during the state budget process. “Instead,” he said, “two weeks before an election, they’re grandstanding on a bill that will never pass.” Christine Geed, a spokeswoman for Curran, echoed these sentiments in a statement to Newsday, in which she called Ra’s bill “a stunt with no possibility of passage.” The Republicans at the news conference said they were troubled by Curran’s comments. Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said he “can’t imagine that she would so quickly disregard and give the back of her hand to approximately half of the population here in Nassau County,” and Rhoads said that Ra’s proposal is “an opportunity for her to step up to the plate, and what she signaled to the members of the Legislature and to all Nassau County residents is that if she steps up to the plate, she plans on striking out.” Dave McDonough, a Republican assemblyman from Merrick, indicated that he and Ra would be willing to work with Democrats to pass the bill. But a similar bill that Sen. Anna Kaplan, a Democrat from Great Neck, introduced in March to provide tax credits to homeowners whose taxes would rise under the reassessment failed to gain traction. In a statement to the Herald, Kaplan said she would be willing to hear more about any “legitimate effort to further bring relief to Nassau taxpayers . . . Unfortunately, though, I doubt this is anything more than a last-minute political stunt before Election Day.” County legislators have not scheduled a public hearing on the phase-in, but have until next summer to do so. Timothy Denton contributed to this story.