Monday, August 20, 2007

Proposal To Freeze Assessment Nothing More Than Smoke And Mirrors

Nassau County Assessor Responds to Legislator's Plan to Freeze County's Assessment Rolls

Some county legislators believe that freezing the assessed values of homes for five years will result in lower property taxes being paid by homeowners. Freezing assessments does not and will not freeze taxes. What the legislators fail to recognize is that taxes are driven by municipal and school district spending. Cut spending and you reduce taxes. Assessment only tells a taxing jurisdiction how much value there is to formulate a tax rate to raise the money it needs to fund their budgets.

When one steps back from the politics being played with the issue to deflect taxpayer outrage for soaring budgets and high property taxes, you cannot hide the facts. Even if reassessment did not take place, the property tax burdens imposed on homeowners by the school districts and the other nearly 400 taxing jurisdictions throughout Nassau County would have increased each year. One only needs to look at towns in Suffolk County (that did not conduct residential reassessments for decades) to see that homeowners are facing the same property tax crisis as their neighbors in Nassau County.

It should also be noted that, with the exception of a handful of school districts, homeowners are only presented with the percentage of increase in spending when budgets are submitted to voters in May. Homeowners only discover what the actual tax rate is several months after the budget is approved. School districts had all the information they needed to present a clearer picture of what the approved tax rates would be prior to the budget vote - but most chose not to.

When reviewing the increase in school taxes paid by homeowners, some legislators conveniently ignore the fact that home improvements and renovations (as reflected in building permits) and loss of exemptions, as required by law, will result in higher taxes paid by certain properties. In addition, the legislators also ignore the fact that as property tax exemptions are granted to some properties within a school district, the property tax rate increases and other homeowners must make up the shortfall in the tax levy.

Despite what some elected officials would have you believe, the Department of Assessment does not collect taxes, set budgets, tax rates or tax levies, yet it is blamed for higher property taxes to divert taxpayer anger from tax increases that are being imposed each year by municipal, school and special districts.

In addition, the Department of Assessment does not set the formula used to determine the percentage of the overall levy that will be paid by each tax class. The class share is mandated by the formula specified in §1803-a of the Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) and is not discretionary.

In addition, state lawmakers passed legislation throughout the court-ordered reassessment limiting the class shift (base proportion) for Class 1 (Residential) property owners to two percent in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, and 1 percent in 2006-2007. Shifts in the class share of property taxes have occurred prior to and throughout reassessment.

If the assessment roll was frozen for a period of five years and only decreases in values were recorded, Nassau County would end up having an assessment roll that is inaccurate, inequitable and will be in violation of the spirit of the settlement that was agreed to in NYS Supreme Court in 2000.

To assess only properties with decreasing values is inconsistent with the requirements of Sections 301 and 305 of the NYS Real Property Tax Law that all properties be assessed at a uniform percentage of market value each year. Furthermore, the county legislature has no authority to usurp the statutory powers of the state legislature to mandate such assessments in light of the RPTL.

Under the proposed five-year assessment freeze, the values of high end waterfront/luxury properties that sell for considerably more than modest middle-class homes in the same school district would never be fully captured - shifting the greater portion of the property tax burden to homes with lower increases in value and leading to a new round of litigation against the county. The only thing that this plan guarantees is full employment for tax certiorari attorneys.

The Republican lawmakers would have you believe that their "smoke and mirrors" proposal is a legislative cure for high property taxes: it clearly is not. No political party has a monopoly on wanting to reduce the property tax burden on residents and businesses in Nassau County. It's time to put aside partisan attacks and misinformation campaigns and work together to address the real cause of higher taxes - municipal, school and special district spending.

Harvey Levinson
Chairman, Nassau County Board of Assessors

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