One of the newest ideas to fix Nassau County’s broken assessment system is also going to be one of the most difficult to implement: let someone else do it.
The county is exploring the possibility of letting towns and other local municipalities handle the assessments on its behalf. Local governments, which the county believes would provide more accurate assessment numbers, would perform the actual assessments and give the numbers to the county.
“It’s something we’re exploring,” said Nassau County Spokesman Brian Nevin. “Nassau County is the only county in the state that assesses county-wide. Everyone else does it on the town level. The town’s just have more integral knowledge of the properties in their jurisdiction, and it’s easier than assessing at a county-wide level. And a lot of villages in the county already do their own assessments.”
The idea comes from a team formed by County Executive Edward Mangano to explore options for the assessment system. The team also explored the idea of having a private company perform assessments, but it wasn’t feasible. “There were only two or three companies that were capable of assessing properties,” Nevin said, “and they’re already working with the villages.”
Before the county’s latest idea could become reality, there are a few key hurdles that need to be cleared. The first, Nevin said, is that the county needs to win the County Guarantee lawsuit that it currently in court.
For decades, Nassau County had what was known as the County Guarantee: if your assessment was lowered after a challenge, the county would refund the error. The problem for the county was that, while county taxes amount to about 20 cents of every tax dollar collected, it was refunding the full dollar to residents, covering the school and village portions of tax refunds. In 2011, Mangano proposed to end the County Guarantee and was met by a lawsuit from school districts across the county.
Nevin said that he expects a result on that suit any time within the next four months. He said winning the suit was a key component to implementing a new plan because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise for towns and villages to handle assessments when the county is the one that would have to pay for errors. But if towns are responsible for paying back assessment challenges, they would theoretically want to take a more active role in the process.
The next step, Nevin said, is changing New York State law. Nassau’s assessment system is governed by state law. The county has petitioned in the past for new laws to allow changes to the system, but Albany ignored it.
“So to make that change, we would need the lobbying power of the towns,” Nevin said. “I think New York State hasn’t been receptive to changing the system in the past. We have talked to them. But maybe working with a united front, maybe we could accomplish it.”
But the towns aren’t keen to jump on board with the county’s plan.
“The Town of Hempstead has an open door and a cooperative attitude in assisting Nassau with its property tax assessment concerns,” said Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray in a statement to the Herald. “At the same time, we are acutely focused on the prospective impact that changes to the county’s system could have on local taxpayers. Costs associated with implementing new assessment systems at the town and city levels and a host of other issues present serious questions that must be addressed in ensuring fair property tax assessments.”
Nevin said the county was aware of the financial concerns of other municipalities, and would work to help cover the costs.
“I’m not so sure [the new plan] would save the county anything because I’m pretty sure we’d wind up subsidizing the towns,” he said. “The goal here isn’t really to save money. It’s to be cost-neutral and produce a more accurate roll.”
If the plan is implemented, the county would still be responsible for all of the debt it has accrued due to the current assessment plan and the County Guarantee — towns and villages would only be responsible for paying back grievances once the new plan is in place.
But if the County loses its lawsuit and doesn’t implement the new plan, there could still be changes to the assessment system. Nevin said that the county is considering accepting village assessments of properties as a backup.
“Right now, the village does its own assessment for the village tax. And the county acts, for some crazy reason, as if that doesn’t even exist,” he said. “Since they’re already done and they’re done village wide, we would accept the assessment and not worry about reassessing village properties each year. If they went and did the work, why wouldn’t we accept that?”