Really? Who Woulda Thunk?
So much for a "freeze" of the assessment in Nassau County (the Mangano mantra, and one of his so-called Four Points) as precursor to lower property taxes.
Indeed, as Newsday points out, and as we've been saying here at The Community Alliance since the days when Harvey Levinson proposed a nominal income tax to replace the school portion of the property tax, declining assessments in a down market will likely yield higher tax rates to close the gap.
From County Executive Ed Mangano, the first excuse of his administration -- "Under the law, I cannot stop the process. The assessor has done his job really before I take office."
But you would freeze the process, Ed. Where would that leave us?
In reality (as opposed to the bogus smoke and mirrors of those who claim that a freeze in the assessment would yield appreciable tax savings for property owners), if the assessment for single-family homes was to be "frozen" at one dollar, the tax rates would skyrocket to cover the escalating costs of school districts (over which the County Exec has absolutely no control), special districts (over which the Town Supervisor avers absolutely no control), County, and Town.
The only way to actually lower the property tax in Nassau County -- and no rocket science is required here -- is to cut costs and reduce spending. Consolidate Nassau's 56 school districts. Eliminate the hundreds of special taxing districts. Reign in the patronage at the County Seat and Town Hall, and streamline governmental operations.
And stop the proliferation of the big lie -- that it's the assessment (fair market value) that keeps property taxes in Nassau the third highest in the nation (right behind the Garden State and Westchester County) -- and not the spending of money that (a) the taxing authorities just don't have, and (b) that we, the people, simply cannot afford to pay for.
The new Nassau County assessments go public today, but won't impact on your actual property taxes until October of 2011 (the lag, yet another brilliant idea from the small minds of officialdom). You can check out your assessment -- and that of your neighbors -- at mynassauproperty.com.
Then, even assuming your assessment decreased, be prepared to dig deeper into your wallets to pay for everything from sanitation to schools. Promises of freezes and cutting waste aside, there is no property tax relief in sight.
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Nassau assessments dropping - but not necessarily taxes
by CELESTE HADRICK / firstname.lastname@example.org
It looks like it's about to become harder to win a property tax reduction in Nassau.
This week, most county property owners will begin receiving notices that their tax assessments have dropped - as much as 11 percent for homeowners and an average 22 percent for businesses.
But don't plan on lower tax bills because tax rates likely will go up to make up for the value reductions, Nassau officials said.
And if the assessment changes make the valuations more accurate, they'll dramatically reduce property owners' chances of challenging their taxes successfully this year - or may even discourage property owners who still are overassessed from filing challenges.
'Like a mirror trick'
Patrick Yula, 62, a real estate agent and teacher from Plainview, complained, "It's almost like a mirror trick. They change the value so as to minimize the protests, but nevertheless all of the tax rates increase so it comes out to a zero-sum equation . . . All I know is, taxes go up."
Nassau Assessor Ted Jankowski described it as "a little like a seesaw. If values go down, the tax rate goes up" while the tax bill stays the same.
The reason lower assessments won't mean lower tax bills is that school districts and other taxing agencies have to raise their rates just to maintain the same amount of revenue already being collected.
Tax bills, which won't reflect the new valuations until late next year, are calculated by multiplying the assessment by the tax rate set by schools, towns, special districts and the county.
But what sounds like a shell game for taxpayers, actually is the county's way of correcting inequities in Nassau's assessment system to pare the huge number of successful tax challenges, which cost Nassau a budget-straining $90 million a year.
The county is still borrowing to pay a portion of the refunds - a practice that was a major contributor to Nassau's near bankruptcy a decade ago, when refunds averaged $100 million a year.
Nassau says it sets single-family home values based on comparable sales, while commercial values are based on a formula involving businesses' operating incomes and losses.
But the nearly 140,000 homeowners and business operators who each year protest their assessments - and that's about a quarter of Nassau's total properties - say they don't understand how the county arrives at their value. They just know it's wrong.
Jankowski promises he is providing more "transparency" along with accuracy this year.
"Clearly it will cut down on refunds because the accuracy of the values is better," said Jankowski, contending that residential values are 25 percent more accurate than assessments issued a year ago.
Named to his job last January, Jankowksi signed his first assessment roll on Dec. 23, triggering this week's notices.
"We feel pretty confident we've greatly improved values this year," Jankowski said.
Some tax appeal attorneys are concerned the reductions may persuade taxpayers who still may be overassessed not to file property tax challenges.
"The county is using the complexity of calculating the correct level of assessment to deceive the public into believing they are fairly assessed, and to discourage them from timely filing protests," said leading residential tax appeal attorney Fred Perry.
Jankowski said residential assessment reductions will average zero to 11 percent, depending upon the taxpayer's school district. Assessments increased in a few districts largely because of "a much more accurate depiction of the market," he said.
The new assessments should appear on the county's Web site, mynassauproperty.com, Monday, the day they become effective. Property owners can challenge the assessments through March 1.
Because of the way Nassau's assessment system works, the new values won't be used to calculate taxes until the October 2011 school tax bills.
Long delay before effect
Nassau is the only county in the state with that nearly two-year lag between the new assessment roll and tax bills. Suffolk County towns do their own assessments, which are issued in May for December tax bills.
The lag, instituted in 2002, was meant to cut down on refunds but hasn't worked.
After voters agreed to change the elected position to an appointed job, Jankowski had sole power to set the assessment roll and sign it before Edward Mangano, who defeated Suozzi in November, was sworn in Friday.
"Under the law, I cannot stop the process," said Mangano, who has promised his own changes. "The assessor has done his job really before I take office."
Both Republicans and Democrats complained last year that the assessment system wasn't working.