Rome Burns, Nero Fiddles, And The Peasants Hear Sweet Music?
We all remember Harvey Levinson, Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors. Yes, he challenged Kate Murray for Town of Hempstead Supervisor. More than that, he challenged officialdom to take up the cause of finding alternatives to the burdensome, and ever-increasing, property tax. Then, too, he asked us, the John Q. Publics of Long Island, to question the propriety -- let alone the impact upon our property taxes -- of a multitude of semi-autonomous, political fiefdoms known collectively as Special Districts.
Government, for the most part, demurred. The electorate (and, certainly, the non-electorate) has gone back to sleep. The Special Districts endure. And John Q. Public continues to pay the price.
Today, Mr. Levinson offers a Guest Blog, both as retrospective and as prologue. The problems with the Special Districts have not gone away. The property tax crisis has not gone away. Thankfully, folks like Harvey Levinson have not gone away (he's not running, and he's still talking, so let no one ask "Where was Harvey Levinson when...?").
We suppose the only question we can ask is, "Where are you?"
Last October, I had the temerity to suggest that the governor appoint a bi-partisan committee to study the feasibility of eliminating the school portion of the residential property tax and replacing it with a modest income tax. I also stepped in a minefield when I revealed that homeowners residing in the unincorporated areas of the towns were paying widely different tax rates imposed by nearly 400 special taxing districts and called for a total restructuring and merger of many of these invisible layers of government.
The political fallout was swift and unmerciful from those who favored the status quo. But, my message was clear: Homeowners are being taxed out of their homes. And, to my delight, many elected officials have finally heard my message and are now supporting the creation of committees to study school property taxes and special districts.
Every proposal has merit and addresses a number of issues worthy of further study and action. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that high property taxes and problems of funding school districts and special taxing districts are not limited to Nassau County. Any solutions that are offered must consider all regions in the state - especially, our neighbor to the east - Suffolk County.
In Nassau County, school property tax rates often increase by an average of 8 to 12 percent each year. If this trend continues, homeowners can expect to see their school property tax obligation double by the end of the decade.
The benefits of replacing the residential portion of the school property tax system with a modest income tax are enormous. Not only will residents see a dramatic decrease of approximately 65 percent in their overall property tax bill obligations, but their monthly mortgage payments would decrease by hundreds of dollars.
As Draconian as school property taxes are for homes, school taxes paid by businesses are even harsher and vary significantly from school district to school district. For example, a gas station valued at $500,000 (based on 2004-05 school tax rates) paid $28,790 in the East Meadow School District, while that same business paid $40,665 located in the Valley Stream School District 24. That is why I proposed that a single commercial school property tax rate be created for all school districts and that a percentage of the tax monies collected be redistributed to all districts under a revenue sharing formula.
Other that sheer happenstance, is there any reason why only two school districts should benefit in the property taxes being paid by the Roosevelt Field Mall?
The task of finding workable solutions to change a property tax structure that has existed for decades is difficult and requires meticulous planning and coordination from our leading financial experts and State legislators.
Many local officials and lawmakers throughout the state have offered a number of school property tax reform measures specifically geared to the problems and financial resources of their regions. However, if you apply any of these solutions to the Nassau County model without addressing our unique four-property class system, existing state aid formulas, fractional levels of assessment, assessment increases that reflect the prolific real estate market, or sharing of the commercial property tax base, you will be creating new and more complex problems.
That is why any study must be conducted at the state level with special consideration given to each region with the clear understanding that the assessed value of one's property is not an indicator of that person's ability to pay taxes.
Last year, when I made several attempts to meet with Governor Pataki to discuss the appointment of a blue-ribbon committee to review my proposals to reduce the school and special district tax burden that is overwhelming house-rich and cash-poor families throughout the county, I was politely dismissed due to scheduling conflicts.
Saving homeowners money is not a partisan issue. Many of the school income tax proposals that have been offered in the State Assembly and Senate have been introduced by Republicans.
Unfortunately, when a tax issue is raised in Nassau County, it is often viewed upon as an attempt to destroy home rule or that Nassau will be turned into New York City. This is political fear mongering at its worst.
The time for debate is over. We have to act now before the property tax crisis overwhelms us.
I hope that other elected officials throughout the Island will join me in my call that the governor act immediately to appoint a bi-partisan committee to review and submit a viable course of action to finally reform the school and special district property tax issues at hand.
There is no reason why one community should be paying more for a glass of water than another community. There is no reason why fire and sanitation districts should be charging more for the same basic services from town to town. There is no reason why one fire district should be charged $519 for the use of a water hydrant while another might be charged $65 in a different section of town. There is no reason why bordering school districts with the same economic characteristics should have vastly different property tax rates.
There is no reason why these issues cannot be debated in a civil and respectful manner.
Harvey B. Levinson
Chairman, Nassau County Board of Assessors
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Meanwhile, back at the homestead, your property tax bill continues to go up, up, up. [If you do not have your tax statements at hand, you can access your property tax records -- back to 2004 -- on the Assessor's Property Search website. Simply enter the requested info, click on the "General and School Taxes" tab, and voila -- your tax records at your fingertips.
Click on "View District Information" (for General and School), and you have all the frightening details. [For some of us, the "real" numbers we have to pay are even more foreboding than the statistics we hear about. This blogger's School Tax went from $5725 in 2003-04, to $6555 in 2004-05, to $7136 in 2005-06. There's no end in sight!]
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