Friday, August 17, 2007

Voice Of The People: George Rand

“I Voted Against The Reassessment…”

. . .And Other Lies My Legislator Told Me

Franklin Square resident and longtime critic of school spending, George Rand, adds his two cents to the property tax dilemma, and calls upon legislators to address the issues rather than to belie the truth with popular, yet still disingenuous, propaganda.

The reasons for high property taxes in New York are many. The annual reassessment of properties at market value is not one of them!

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Property taxes in Nassau County are among the highest in the nation and our politicians are now blaming that on the county’s property reassessment. But the chief force driving property taxes higher is soaring school spending which is rising at nearly three times the rate of inflation. While reassessment may shift school taxes within a district, in reality it has no effect on the total school tax burden.

In recent mailings to constituents in West Hempstead and Franklin Square, Nassau County Legislator Vincent Muscarella (R-West Hempstead) wrote, “I voted against reassessment and have been a strong opponent of this process since the beginning.”

Sadly, Legislator Muscarella has forgotten that Nassau County’s previous property assessment system discriminated against minority and other homeowners who were paying a higher share of taxes than those in more affluent areas because taxes were based on 1938 building costs and 1965 land values.

The county had no choice but to update assessments because the late Supreme Court Justice Leo McGinity ruled that the county’s property tax system was unconstitutional. Legislator Muscarella’s vote against reassessment had little significance: Charles O’Shea, who headed the Board of Assessors at the time, was ordered by the court to institute a market-based assessment.

It was O’Shea, a Republican, who selected the contractor and issued the specific rules for reassessing all real property.

Reassessment can change the distribution of taxes within a district, particularly for residents who expanded their homes without permits and thus had been underpaying their share of taxes. But only school boards have the direct responsibility for increasing school spending which absorbs nearly 65 percent of a homeowner’s property tax payments.

During the past five years, school taxes have gone up 35%, on average, driven by teachers’ salaries that are 60% higher than the average pay of public school teachers in the U.S.

Even if property reassessment values remained unchanged, the average homeowner would still be hit with huge school tax hikes each year due to the fact that Nassau County teachers and school administrators receive pay and benefit increases of more than 6 percent per year. Typically, one-third of the staff in public school districts have salaries of more than $100,000 for a ten month school year.

Freezing assessment does not translate into freezing taxes. This only confuses taxpayers and takes attention away from the real issue of reducing spending. Newsday has called the Republican proposal to freeze property assessment “stupid public policy,” and added that “it will only lead to a less accurate tax role.”

Legislator Muscarella and his colleagues on the County Legislature should find an “intellectually honest” issue, as Newsday suggested, and concentrate their efforts on capping property taxes to ease the burden on homeowners who are being crushed by school property taxes.

George Rand
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The writer is a resident of Franklin Square.

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