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Nassau Supreme Court Judge Upholds ‘County Guarantee’

GCSD to bear burden of tax certiorari settlements

As Nassau County school districts wade knee-deep in budget numbers, more fiscal challenges may lie ahead after a ruling to repeal the ‘county guarantee’ was upheld by the Hon. Thomas A. Adams, Acting Nassau County Supreme Court Justice and Court of Claims judge, on Jan. 4.

At the first regular Garden City Board of Education meeting of the year, Counsel Bonnie Gorham of Guercio & Guercio clarified for audience members that the newly passed local law, known as the county guarantee, will shift the responsibility of costs of back tax certiorari settlements from the county to school districts.     

“As the board will recall, back in October of 2010, the Nassau County Legislature passed a local law repealing the county guarantee, which had very significant implications for both local government and school districts,” Gorham explained at the board meeting on Jan. 18,

As a result of the law, more than 40 school districts in Nassau County joined together and retained counsel to challenge the validity of the legislation. Gorham said that, as of now, the county guarantee remains repealed and it is incumbent upon the school districts to make good on any successful tax certiorari challenges.

While Guercio & Guercio does not represent Garden City School District in the lawsuit, Gorham said the firm representing the districts might appeal the ruling, however that could take more than a year before it is decided upon.     

“That is something school districts will have to consider in the future in their budgeting process, the obligation to repay any successful tax certiorari suits,” she added.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen reported that he had some communication with the firm that represents the districts. “They felt they had reasonable grounds to appeal, the narrowness of the judge’s ruling kind of bypasses the central argument, which is that the county didn’t have the authority to repeal the county guarantee in the way that it did,” Feirsen said.

The county guarantee was first implemented in 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 the spring of 2010, the Nassau County Legislature voted to end the guarantee.

Gorham maintained that one of the legal arguments that was advanced in the case was that the county guarantee is essentially a “quid pro quo” of Nassau County’s ability to make assessments. “Nassau County has the power to access, so with that power, came also the obligation to make good on those successful tax certioraris. So that was one of the main arguments actually that was advanced on behalf of the school districts, but that was not addressed by the judge so that may be a valid ground for an appeal.”

School Board President Colleen Foley reacted to the news of the ruling. “So by repealing this, they still make the assessments, have no responsibility for error and are just cost shifting this to school districts. So there is no incentive to get it right the first time,” she said.