Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Assessment As Straw Man

Say "Freeze" Long Enough And Loud Enough, And Eventually, Everyone Will Believe You

"Straw Man is defined in the dictionary as "an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position." To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Calling for a "freeze" of Nassau County's assessments as a cure to property tax woes, could be labeled as a "straw man" argument. We simply choose to call it what it is -- the big lie.

Granted, the assessment process stinks, in practice and in theory. It is inherently unequal and absurdly unfair, a taking based not on one's ability to pay, but rather, on the artificially fixed value of one's property.

The valuation process, described as complex (so as not to have to be adequately explained, if explanation for the haphazard designation of value is offered at all), creates the illusion of fairness, while ignoring a basic tenet of this regressive system of taxation -- as values decrease, tax rates must increase.

As flawed as the assessment process is (and it is, when two identical houses on the same block have assessed values that are $30,000+ apart), it has little to do with skyrocketing property taxes.

Set the assessed value of every property in the county at $1, and, as Don Clavin, Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, told Newsday, residents will look at their tax bills and exclaim, "'Oh Wow! My taxes went up!' because the rate went up."

Double "duh!" to that one.

And what is it that causes tax rates to rise, so as to meet the needs of school districts, special districts, and governmental entities from Albany to Town Hall?

It's the spending, stupid! [Or was that the stupid spending?]

Get a handle on it. Consolidate. Eliminate. Make do with less, like the rest of us.

Just forget about the non-sensical rhetoric of "fixing" the assessment, the partisan finger-pointing, and the silly little tea parties that bring tears to Glenn Beck's eyes.

They will no more lower property taxes than will a phony "freeze!"
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Ex-Nassau assessor says lower rates won't stop challenges


Lower assessments for Nassau County homeowners will not necessarily lead to a drop in challenges, the county's former assessor said Tuesday.

"The attorneys and firms that challenge the assessments will argue that they should have gone down 20 or 30 percent," Harvey Levinson, who retired last year, said in interview from his Florida home. "Assessments are going down everywhere. Here in Palm Beach County, values are down 40 percent."

The current and former officials commented after Newsday reported on Sunday that Nassau Assessor Ted Jankowski had significantly lowered property valuations, by as much as 11 percent for homeowners and an average 22 percent for businesses.

The Town of Hempstead receiver of taxes, Donald X. Clavin, Jr., said the reductions appear to be across-the-board, and do not correct inequities among individual homes.

"He's just watered down everybody's values and when they get their tax bill, it will be, 'Oh Wow! My taxes went up!' because the rate went up," Clavin said."

The tax roll Levinson said he certified a year ago also lowered assessments, but not as dramatically as the roll released last week. "What Jankowski did is nothing. It's just that real estate values declined dramatically during the intervening year," Levinson said.

A leading Democratic official in county government, Legis. Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, issued a statement expressing concern, saying, "It is my sincere hope that the assessor's office, after a year of reviewing the issue, will very soon be proposing sound solutions that will work to alleviate taxpayers' fears and anger."

County Executive Edward Mangano, who promised during the campaign to fix the assessment system, was scheduled to hold a news conference on the issue Thursday, officials said.

After his inauguration on New Year's Day, Mangano told reporters that his plan was to "move the real property tax assessment system from an annual assessment to a cyclic assessment."

He said he would appoint a "team" to study how long the cycle should be, freezing the assessment for two years, or even four years.

The Republican presiding officer of the legislature, Peter Schmitt of Massapequa, said he had no confidence in Jankowski to draw up an accurate assessment roll, and he called for a freeze in assessments.

"Assessments are like a car -- you can't tinker with the engine when it's going 60 mph," Schmitt said.

However, most assessment professionals think that freezing assessments can worsen tax inequities, not ease them.

When Republicans proposed a similar freeze in 2007, the state's top assessment official, Lee Kyriacou, executive director of the state Office of Real Property Services, said it would be "highly imprudent if not illegal."

1 comment:

  1. You already have NIFA (remember them?) asking sweetly how Nassau's budget is going to be balanced now that the heating oil tax has been rescinded. Any further changes which might tend to expand the budget deficit is sure to raise even more flags; at the same time, this whole brouhaha about the assessment process is simply a proxy for what voters really want: lower taxes. Mangnano and the Republican legislature promised a lot in the recent campaign, including a "tax revolt", but they're going to have a hard time delivering. Watch for story lines justifying a retreat from campaign promises. Typically these take the form of statements professing shock and dismay over what will be described as a more difficult situation than had been represented by the prior administation. Since Mangnano, Schmitt and others have all been part of county government now for years, many will find that hard to believe.