Let's Blame It All On The Receiver Of Taxes ~ After All, He's Got The Money!
To hear the GOP tell it (evidence those annoying TV spots and the Town of Hempstead Supervisor's press releases), Harvey Levenson, Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, is single-handedly responsible for those outrageous property taxes. "First he gave us the Reassessment, now he wants to give us an income tax..." The nerve of that guy!
Of course, anyone armed with even basic information (which precludes about 95% of the electorate) understands that Harvey Levinson is not responsible for the Reassessment. The Reassessment at full market value was ordered by the courts, and actually began during the tenure of the previous Assessor, Charlie O'Shea. Indeed, O'Shea got the boos and, ultimately, the boot by voters for what turned out to be the administration of the reassessment process that can only be likened to FEMA's response to Katrina. Wrong man for the wrong job, we suppose.
While the Assessment is now at full market value - with most houses in Nassau falling within the range, if not below actual market value - during Harvey Levinson's tenure, the "Assessed Value" or "Level of Assessment" was actually lowered from 1% of full market value to 1/4 of 1% (o.25%) of full market value. In other words, for most homeowners, the Assessed Value has gone DOWN! [See Sample Notice, for illustrative purposes.]
So, if Harvey Levinson and the Board of Assessors REDUCED the Level of Assessment, why do our taxes keep going UP?
While the solutions to the property tax crisis may be complex, the reason your property taxes rise year after year is quite simple - its the TAX RATES!
No, the Assessor does NOT set tax rates, prepare budgets, or collect taxes. The marketplace determines the full market value of your house. The Department of Assessment establishes an Assessed Value - period.
Who, then, does set the TAX RATES, which determine how much tax you pay per $100 of Assessed Value? The County (approximately 20% of your tax bill), The Town and Town Special Districts (approximately 20% of your tax bill), and your school district (approximately 60% of your tax bill).
To blame Harvey Levinson for high property taxes is akin to blaming Don Clavin (the Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, who COLLECTS the taxes for the County, the Town, the Special Districts and the School Districts) for high property taxes. You can say it, but like those TV ads, it simply isn't true.
As for the proposal to replace the SCHOOL portion of the regressive property tax (tied only to the value of one's house) with a nominal income tax (linked to one's ability to pay), it is but one among several possible solutions put on the table for discussion. We can stick with the current property tax system, and see our school taxes DOUBLE before the decade is out, or we can act now to change the system to something that is more balanced and fair - providing relief to everyone from our college grads to our seniors, and capturing that "hidden population" - the renters - for whom we bear what is truly an unconscionable tax burden.
We all agree that an income tax alone would not be a tenable "fix" for the school tax mess. We need to eliminate waste and consolidate efforts. There must be shared receipts from the taxes generated by commercial enterprises. And Long Island must, at long last, get its fair share of State Aid from Albany. [There can be no excuse, let alone reason, why Long Island school districts receive in the neighborhood of 16% in State Aid while upstate school districts garner some 60%.]
As for trimming the fat at the County and Town, again, consolidate, eliminate, and run a tighter, leaner ship. The County has, with some notable bumps, started down that road. There is, admittedly, a long way to go. The Town has yet to follow suit, and there is little indication of a willingness to take any path other than that which has been traveled for the past 100 years or so.
The property tax and its ramifications is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Neither is finding a solution to a crisis that is quickly reaching the breaking point.
To be fair, Kate Murray didn't create the property tax any more than Harvey Levinson is responsible for the reassessment. Those TV commercials are no more than campaign fluff - the Swift Boats of our time. On the other hand, the Town Supervisor, through both her control of Town tax rates and the lack of control (real or professed) of the tax rates set by the Special Districts, does increase our tax burden. [In 2005, this burden was increased on the Town level by some 12.8%, purported surplus notwithstanding.]
As for what to do about the ever-skyrocketing property tax, other than to blast Harvey Levinson, Supervisor Murray is strangely silent. Whatever became of, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem?"
Come to think of it, wasn't it Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin who revised the look of our Tax Statements so that we can now see quite plainly where every penny of our tax dollar goes? What was muddled is now crystal clear. Why, when we didn't have a clue as to where our tax dollars were siphoned off to, life was simpler, times were easier, and the price of gas was cheaper. Its all Don Clavin's fault. Don Clavin, and those nasty Nassau County Democrats. Yeah, that's the ticket!
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Read Lawrence C. Levy's column in Newsday, Time for Honest Debate of Property Tax Options.