Worried about tax overhaul

Consultants in F.S. explain county reassessment effort


Franklin Square residents gathered at the Washington Street School on Jan. 15 to meet with two private tax consultants to learn more about Nassau’s effort to reassess the county’s 386,000 residential properties — a process that could have a significant effect on homeowners’ taxes, both positive and negative.

In 2018, County Executive Laura Curran, with help from the Nassau Legislature, undertook the county’s first reassessment in nearly eight years. The effort has so far changed the values of residents’ homes to amounts that county officials believe more accurately reflect their current market prices.

Curran justified the move, explaining that since 2011, when former County Executive Ed Mangano froze the tax rolls and gutted the Department of Assessment, the county has been open to a cascade of successful tax-reduction settlements by homeowners and their attorneys, resulting in many artificially depressed property values. The settlements have, in turn, caused a disparity between homeowners who had successfully and habitually grieved their property assessments and those who had not. When homeowners win certiorari cases, those who do not file for reductions must make up the difference in taxes, leading to higher bills for them.

“The county needs a defensible assessment roll to stop the cycle of mass settlements and borrowing that has left an already cash-strapped county with over $700 million in certified debt,” Curran said in September. “The prior administration left the county with a corrupted assessment roll from its eight-year degradation of property values.”

But John Randazzo, the Franklin Square Civic Association president, said that some residents had reached out to him, worried about the increase in their property taxes because of the new assessments. By Curran’s estimates, 52 percent of county homeowners will see property-tax increases, while 48 percent will see reductions. So Randazzo and the rest of the FSCA invited tax consultants Mike Napoli and Steven Hirsch, of the Garden City Elite Property Tax Consultants, to explain the situation to residents.

Subhed: Step in the right direction?

Napoli and Hirsch described the county’s previous assessment system as “a mess.” Hirsch explained to residents that their assessments were frozen for nearly a decade to curb the changes in real estate prices happening in 2010-11 that could have raised homeowner’s property taxes. But as property values rose, the assessments became less and less accurate, and when residents grieved their assessments, the values became even more inaccurate.

What’s more, Hirsch said, the county continued to raise tax rates for homeowners who had not filed for grievances to make up for the money that was lost owing to the reduced assessments. This meant that those who never grieved, like Franklin Square’s Carl Gerrato, were subjected to higher tax rates and no relief on their property taxes, unlike those who did grieve.

“Because they weren’t paying what they should have been paying, I was being hit twice,” Gerrato said. “Now everyone is going to be paying, and this balances things out.”

But Napoli said that those who have always grieved, like Franklin Square resident Jim Marcino, are seeing their home values “go through the roof.” Marcino’s home had previously been valued at about $500,000, but it has now been reassessed at $810,000. Napoli said there are three types of homeowners: those who annually grieved their assessments, those who grieved every other year and those who never grieved.

“The first house is seeing a $3,000 bump and is howling mad, the second is seeing a $1,000 bump and thinks it sucks, and the third house is actually seeing their taxes go down,” Napoli said.

Although Napoli said that the new assessment plan would help ease the burden placed on those who never grieved, it also, it appears, overcorrected values on many properties and used some out-of-date or inaccurate information. He and Hirsch urged residents to go online and search real estate websites to determine their homes’ actual values, and if they do not match what the county had mailed out to them, then they should file a grievance to correct that value to avoid overpaying on their property taxes.

Subhed: The debt problem

County Legislator Carrie Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said that the situation was mixed in his home community, where a majority of residents never grieved and were thus carrying the tax burden, similar to other minority-majority neighborhoods around the county. They could see their property taxes reduced under reassessment.

Meanwhile, older residents who are now retired and have limited income are worried that they will be unable to afford the increase in property taxes. Solages added that the reassessment change, along with the loss of the federal deduction for state and local taxes, would create “a perfect storm against our seniors.”

“The elderly will be hit especially hard,” Solages said. “I’m asking the county for a bailout to address our debt and fix this broken system so we can finally put our money for better services and updates to our infrastructure.”

While Curran has said she thinks a bailout is unlikely, she does hope the new assessment system could help limit the amount of debt that the county must take to pay for grievance refunds. Under a state mandate known as the county guarantee, Nassau must refund school districts and other taxing districts the amount that is refunded to homeowners because of inaccurate property assessments.

She said that the county would try to reach out to seniors who need help, and announced on Jan. 17 a new Quality Assurance Unit, which is to oversee the county Department of Assessment, the Assessment Review Commission and the Small Claims Assessment Review unit.

Curran noted that when she took office, she visited the assessment department, and found about 75 empty cubicles among the roughly 200 that were there. Ana Sousa, the county director of audits and grants in Office of Management and Budget, will lead the Quality Assurance Unit, formed in response to a series of errors in the reassessment rollout. She pledged to be diligent and transparent.

“We’re going to reprogram the department from a culture of complacency to one of credibility and professionalism, Sousa said.

The county’s five-year plan to phase in assessments at 20 percent per year has been included in the state’s budget and currently awaits approval. If it passes, then it will go before the County Legislature for a vote.

The deadline to grieve property assessments for the upcoming year was originally set for March 1, but has been extended until April 30.