Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Men Of A Certain Rage

Or, Ed And Ted's Assessment Misadventure

Ever get the feeling that as a county, if not as a country, we're taking one step forward and two steps back? That regressive narrowmindedness has supplanted anything resembling progressive thought? That we've somehow fallen into a black hole, warping us back to a time where the likes of a certain Senator Joseph McCarthy pointed fingers, fed off of fear, and sought to make us all safe from imaginary threats from within?

Not that a proposed freeze of Nassau County's assessment is akin to Communisim, but maybe what we need in the county, if not this country, is health care that provides universal coverage for Palinectomies, a media that understands the difference between fact and opinion, and a government that thrives on an educated electorate.

If ignorance is bliss, Nassau County residents, and, apparently, Americans at large, must be considered delirious. Content to be mired in yesterday's failed ideas. Fooled by those who pass off the tired and old for the shiny and new. Moved to dubious rebellion by the very folks who helped create the mess we now find ourselves stuck in.

There's a "seesaw effect" in assessment? When assessed values go down, tax rates go up? A "freeze" does little if anything to reduce the dreaded property tax? Really? Why didn't anybody tell us?

Folks, we've been trying. One would think we would, by now, have figured out that "it's not the assessment, stupid," it's the spending! One would think...

Maybe what this county, lo, this country needs is not a Tea Party, but rather, a good old-fashioned coffee clotch -- with extra caffeine. It's time that we all woke up and started to pay attention!
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From The New York Times:

Dealing With a Tax Burden


FACED with a property tax bill that will top $11,000 this year, Bernalda Fritton and Robert Joyce are thinking about selling their $350,000 Wantagh home and relocating to Nebraska, where Ms. Fritton grew up. In 2008, their taxes were $9,800.

“Our taxes are really astronomical,” said Ms. Fritton, 35, a nursing student who works at Huntington Hospital. “I almost have to work the entire year for us to pay our taxes.”

In Nebraska, she said, their cost of living would be reduced, allowing them to afford more than the four-bedroom two-bath home on a 60-by-100 lot they now reside in.

Complaining about Long Island’s property taxes — among the highest in the country — is a frequent pastime these days. Some, like Ms. Fritton, are weighing whether to relocate; others are downsizing. Still others are staying put, accepting the status quo in exchange for top-rated school systems, which are bankrolled by tax revenues.

The anger over taxes and the assessment system used to determine them was strong enough to unseat Thomas R. Suozzi from his position as county executive after eight years; Edward P. Mangano made good use of the issue in his victorious campaign.

“The broken assessment system was a tremendous reason I decided to run for county executive,” said Mr. Mangano, adding that as a county legislator he had been “asking for a review of the current system for years.”

As the county Department of Assessment mailed out its January tax roll notices of tentative assessed value for the 2011-2012 tax year, using values from 2010 and noting their change from 2009, Mr. Mangano detailed a plan to reform and repair the property tax assessment system.

“This system is crushing Nassau County,” he told reporters at a press conference he had called to announce his “assessment review team.”

“If it is not fixed, Nassau’s taxpayers will continue to shoulder an unhealthy financial burden.”

Mr. Mangano said that incorrect property tax bills had “created a $1.2 billion debt for assessment errors alone, and another $100 million of taxpayer money will be spent for past mistakes.” That represents about half the total county taxpayer debt, he said.

“If those errors could be eliminated and residential assessments corrected,” he added, taxpayers would save about 16.4 percent. The county could reduce the $1.23 billion in outstanding bonds it issued to reimburse overcharged homeowners.

Instead of the annual assessment, which has been in place for the last seven years, Mr. Mangano is proposing to freeze tax rolls at 2010 values and do assessments cyclically every four years. Some of his proposals would require state legislation.

But Diane Yatauro, the Democratic leader of the Nassau Legislature, said she was unconvinced that “a freeze or a conversion to cyclical assessment will provide any real tax relief to property owners,” and even said it might “raise false hopes that tax relief is imminent.”

Ted Jankowski, the tax assessor, expressed similar doubts. He said declining real estate values and assessments would not necessarily translate into lower property tax bills. The system, he said, works “like a seesaw.” If values come down, the tax rate will go up as the tax burden is redistributed, so that the county can maintain constancy in the amount of money it receives.

The assessment represents each homeowner’s proportional share of what a taxing jurisdiction, like a school or water district, judges it will need in the upcoming year.

Taxes are high, Mr. Jankowski said, “but it is not because of the assessment. It is how much an individual taxing district wants to spend.” (There are 322 separate taxing districts using the county assessment rolls.)

In Nassau, 64 percent of property taxes go to school districts. The county pays the refunds on behalf of school districts and other tax jurisdictions in the county.

Mr. Jankowski did acknowledge that tax challenges — which can be made in Nassau County from Jan. 1 to March 1 — are “zapping resources from the system.” That is because the money to pay for the refunds “has to be raised from taxes.”

Linda Petralia, an associate broker with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s Syosset office, says that one of the first questions people ask when being shown a home is how high the taxes are.

Sometimes the amount is a deterrent, though more often buyers proceed anyway, she said.

An exception these days, however, is big houses on large lots. A number of sellers “are downsizing primarily to get away from taxes” that often exceed $20,000, she said. One example is a five-bedroom four-and-a-half-bath farm ranch on 1.1 acres in Woodbury, which according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island is listed at $1.57 million and has taxes of $26,674.77.

“When people come to look at the house,” Ms. Petralia said, “the comments you get are, ‘The taxes are high.’ ”

Riina M. Friedrich, a broker at Friedrich Real Estate in Babylon, seconded Ms. Petralia, saying “a primary motivation for selling” was lower taxes. Sellers who are clients of hers are scaling down, buying condominiums and looking for smaller homes — “something with a lower tax base.”

Cammie and Robert Kaiser of Sayville recently listed the four-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath English Tudor where they have lived for 33 years. They are asking $569,000, and the annual taxes are about $10,000, Ms. Kaiser said. With the children grown and on their own, the couple are trading in their location a half block from the Great South Bay for a lakefront property in Salem, S.C.

“My taxes down South are half of what I am paying here and the house is bigger,” Ms. Kaiser said. They are nearing retirement, and will be on a fixed income, so “taxes played a big role” in their decision to relocate.

Bernard Janowitz heads the Janowitz Group, which is developing Stone Hill at Muttowntown, a gated community where the property taxes range from $30,000 to $50,000. He offered another viewpoint: Acknowledging that the taxes were a deterrent to home shoppers from Manhattan and other places off the Island, he said local buyers were “used to paying high taxes” and would bite the bullet to be in the top-rated Syosset school district.

“The taxes here are just insane,” he said. “But if you want the best schools, the resale value and the best police, that’s why you live in Nassau County.”


  1. The confusion on this subject is shockingly prevalent. What irks me more than anything else is the degree to which our elected "leaders" (I use this term advisedly) reinforce and exacerbate this confusion, by sending friendly reminders in the mail letting me know that I have the right to challenge my assessment. This has become an annual ritual practiced by numerous public officials. I had actually thought that given that we now have a Republican county executive, and given that each and every one of my local representatives is a Republican, I would be, for once, spared this insult to my intelligence. In other words, wouldn't there be some party loyalty at play, that would inspire these guys to close ranks and get behind Mangnano, as he tries to tackle this problem?

    Call me naive, because sure as hell I get a postcard reminder last week from my nitwit county legislator - Dennis Dunne - reminding me that now is the time to "grieve" my assessment. I'm now sure I'll be getting something similar from Kate Murray.

    If only I could "grieve" the clowns who send me this stuff.

  2. I'm tired of hearing about our "top rated schools" on Long Island. On average, our schools are mediocre given the outrageous amount of money we pour into them. If Mangano really wanted to lower our taxes, reducing wasteful school spending would be his #1 priority. "Fixing the assessment system" is nothing more than a diversion from the real problems facing the taxpayers of this County.