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Superintendent Addresses ‘Critical’ Lawsuit Against County Over Guarantee

District Fiscal Picture Darkens in Light of Potential Certiorari Expenditures

Nearly one year later after the Nassau County Legislature passed the Commonsense Act of 2010, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen publicly addressed the pending lawsuit filed by the Garden City School District and 40 other districts to challenge the repeal of the ‘county guarantee.’

The County Guarantee dates back to 1948 when the New York State Legislature determined that Nassau County should be responsible for costs and penalties resulting from its errors in property tax assessments. In 2010, the Nassau County Legislature ended the guarantee, which ultimately will shift the burden of expenditures from certiorari suits to school districts beginning in 2013.

At the Nov. 15 school board meeting, Dr. Robert Feirsen asked Garden City Board of Education Counsel Bonnie Gorham of Guercio & Guercio to update the board on the pending lawsuit filed against Nassau County last spring. Gorham reiterated that the Nassau County Legislature passed what was called the Commonsense Act of 2010 last year. “That had the effect of abolishing the longstanding county guarantee with respect to tax certiorari proceedings. The legislation took effect immediately although it did not effect tax rolls that were finalized prior in April 2012,” she explained.

In spring of 2011, Gorham said that a number of school districts in Nassau County joined together and retained counsel to challenge the validity of the legislation. According to Gorham, various school districts’ lawsuits have been consolidated and are pending before a justice in the Supreme Court of Nassau County. “Counsel for the school districts, including of course, Garden City, has filed a motion the lawsuit for summary and judgment and that motion is still pending. So the lawsuit is still very much alive, although there has been no decision,” Gorham added.

In light of the current economic climate, Feirsen warned that the school district is already facing a difficult budget season ahead due to the impact of the new 2 percent tax levy cap legislation. “One of the things that we talked about was the possibility that we would inherit this burden, this obligation from the county, even though we had nothing to do with this assessment or misassessment of the properties. And a question was asked at that point…as to whether tax certiorari expenditures would be exempt from the cap and, unfortunately, the legislation specifically prohibits that any tax certiorari decision from being excluded from the cap,” he said.

According to Feirsen, the potential costs from certiorari suits have yet to be determined. “We are facing this tax cap with strict limitations, but we are inheriting the burden from the county, which could be a substantial amount of money. We’ve yet to hear how much money it might be and what the liability would be,” he said.

Feirsen stressed the importance of the outcome of the pending litigation. “This is a critical, critical lawsuit for us…It’s something to keep an eye on,” he said.