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Nassau reassessment: 65% see school tax hike, 35% get reductions

Nassau reassessment: 65% see school tax hike, 35% get reductions

12/13/20

Mark and Marcie Herzog, of Rockville Centre, outside their home on Dec. 10.
Credit: Chris Ware

The following article is courtesy of Scott Eidler from newsday.com
Updated December 13, 2020 6:46 PM
Email: scott.eidler@newsday.com Twitter: @ScottEidler

 

More than 214,000 Nassau homeowners are paying higher school taxes this year, compared with 115,000 who got reductions, a 65%-to-35% split that reflects the most direct impact of County Executive Laura Curran's countywide property reassessment.

Those who received tax increases included 104,568 property owners whose taxes rose by up to $500 compared with last year; 74,416 homeowners who got tax hikes of $500 to $1,000; and owners of 29,754 properties who saw tax increases of $1,000 to $2,000 this year, according to a county analysis provided to Newsday.

Those who got decreases included 72,888 homeowners whose taxes dropped by up to $500; 20,893 who saw tax reductions of between $500 and $1,000; and 12,148 property owners who got tax reductions of $1,000 to $2,000 this year, according to the data.

The county analysis represents the first complete review of the impact of the first reassessment in Nassau in a decade. First-half school tax payments, reflecting the new valuations, were due to town tax receiver offices by last Thursday. School taxes comprise the largest portion of the property tax bill.

Curran, a Democrat, campaigned against the "broken assessment system" when she ran for office in 2017, and ordered the reassessment of all county properties to be completed for the 2020-21 tax year.

Administration officials said 11% of the total tax increases this year stemmed not from reassessment, but from budget decisions made by school districts.

Curran's predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano, had frozen the tax rolls for eight years and granted mass settlements to thousands of filers. That led to undervaluation of large numbers of properties and an uneven distribution of the property tax burden.

Homeowners who did not file challenges were carrying a larger share of the property tax burden than homeowners who settled and won reductions.

In an effort to blunt the impact of reassessment, county officials established a "phase-in" exemption that spreads increases and decreases in the tax burden over a five-year period.

County Assessor David Moog defended the new home values and said tax increases were in line with projections sent to homeowners over the past two years.

"It's very common after reassessment, no matter where you live, people are upset that they have to pay more taxes, but it's all based on the value of the property," Moog said.

"Everyone has to pay their share; my job is to try to make sure the distribution of taxes, distributed by the wealth or the value of the home, is as fair as possible," Moog said.

When "people come out to Long Island … they come out with a certain lifestyle, expecting a high level of service," Moog continued. "We have the safest county in the country, we have the best school districts in the country, and they don't come for free."

 


“I freaked out. If I would have gone up $200, $300 I wouldn't even bat an eyelash."
-Bob Krauss, of Plainview, whose total school tax bill rose by nearly $1,200


 

Many homeowners said they were aware a reassessment was looming. Still, some said they were experiencing sticker shock. "I freaked out. If I would have gone up $200, $300 I wouldn't even bat an eyelash," said Bob Krauss, 71, of Plainview, who has lived in his home for 31 years.

His total school tax bill rose by nearly $1,200 — from $8,494 last year to $9,691 — online county records show. Krauss' valuation was $638,000 for 2020-21, compared with $276,400 in the 2019-20 tax year, records show. "To get an increase of $100 a month is just ridiculous," said Krauss, a retired money broker.

 

 


“On paper, $1,200 doesn't look all that much. But, every year it goes up, that’s the problem."
-Mark Herzog, of Rockville Centre, whose tax bill rose from $16,238 to $17,482


 

Mark Herzog, 68, a retired dentist, and his wife, Marcie, 63, a retired attorney, have lived in Rockville Centre since 1991.

Their tax bill this year is $17,482, compared with $16,238 last year, while their valuation rose from $535,600 to $813,000, county data shows.

"I had no problem with that, because I felt $813,000 more accurately reflected the value of the house," Mark Herzog said. "On paper, $1,200 doesn't look all that much. But, every year it goes up, that’s the problem, it goes up every year."

Marcie Herzog called it "ridiculous that we’re paying such high taxes. We’ve been here 28 years. We love it, we like what they offer, we like our neighbors. If it keeps going, I’d be ready to move."

County officials had acknowledged that reassessment could end up causing pain to many property owners. But officials said it was a necessary pill to swallow, as many homeowners had been shouldering an unfair share of the tax burden and were due sizable reductions.

Curran's decision to reassess all county properties was backed by Democratic and Republican county legislators. The tax roll had been frozen since 2011, and most agreed it was time to begin updating property values.

In March 2018, Nassau legislators approved amendments to contracts with assessment firms to conduct the reassessment.

Only two Democratic lawmakers objected: Legis. Siela Bynoe of Westbury and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams of Freeport.

Six months later, Curran signed an executive order reducing the level of assessment from 0.25% to 0.1%, allowing huge valuation swings to take effect. The level of assessment is the fraction of full market value at which homes are assessed. Lowering it allowed the county to assess homes at their true market value much sooner.

Republican lawmakers said Curran went back on a deal with their caucus. But county officials said holding the level at 0.25% would have prevented them from taxing the properties at close to the new market value.

In October, the county legislature voted unanimously to approve the final tax roll.

Asked about the county analysis released to Newsday last week, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said he lacked faith in the new county property values.

Nicolello cited a "neighborhood adjustment" factor used in the algorithm to compute residential values, calling the figure "arbitrary."

County officials defend the figure as necessary for precise calculation of property values.

"I think everyone understood … the values were no longer accurate because of the freeze, the settlement program," Nicolello said.

But "because of the way they [the Curran administration] rolled it out, it destroyed the faith and trust in the process," Nicolello said. "I think there are many, many errors in values that are not accurate and in the system as a result."

Nicolello also stressed that "the numbers of people getting heavy tax increases in the middle of a pandemic is causing real hardship out there.

For a substantial number of them, the increase [in] what they're getting is only 20% of what they will ultimately get as a result of the reassessment."

County officials and independent experts have expressed high confidence in the roll's accuracy.

Curran administration officials said some of the responsibility for the tax hikes lies with school districts, many of which raise their tax levies annually.

Had levies remained the same between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the officials said, only 54% of homeowners would have received tax increases, and 46% would have been granted reductions.

All Nassau school districts stayed within the state tax cap this year.

Michele Spara, deputy Nassau County assessor, said if the school districts had not increased their levies, "the amount of parcels that would have increased is significantly lower."

What's "driving this, is … school districts increased their levies," Spara said. "They go out, they do their budgets, they have a budget vote. That is certainly a driver to why the increases were what they were."

Spara argued that while there are "other factors that would have moved the numbers," such as assessment reductions granted by the county

Assessment Review Commission, "I think this definitely demonstrates that the increases [were] definitely driven by increased levies that property owners voted for."

When Nassau "started doing this forecasting, we would have no idea of knowing two years out exactly what would happen to these levies, especially on an individual basis for all 54 school districts," Spara said.

This year, spending by Long Island's 124 districts was expected to rise to a total of about $13.4 billion, based on district budgets compiled by the state Education Department.

That worked out to an overall spending increase of 1.8%, the lowest since 2015-16, Newsday reported in June before of the annual statewide budget vote.

Majority Republicans in the county legislature accused the Curran administration of using distraction tactics.

"Bringing up the school districts in the analysis is trying to divert attention [from] the county’s own issues," Nicolello said.

"I think what we’re seeing is kind of what we were afraid was going to happen," said Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore). "We’re seeing a reassessment that was riddled with mistakes that resulted in massive tax increases for the vast majority of homeowners in Nassau County."

Rhoads continued: "The suggestion that this is related to the school district levy is absurd."


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