On Nov. 9, in an attempt to stop the inequity of real estate tax certiorari payments by Glen Cove taxpayers, the Glen Cove School District filed suit against Nassau County. In the suit, the district claims the county's tax policy is arbitrary and capricious and discriminates against the city's taxpayers. Glen Cove is the only school district of 56 public school districts in Nassau County which pays its own tax certiorari settlements. If a property owner in Glen Cove successfully challenges the assessed value of his property, it is the responsibility of the city's board of education to pay for such overpayment out of the taxes collected solely from the residents of Glen Cove. Over the last three years the district has expended over $5.5 million for the payment of tax certioraris. If a property owner in any other part of Nassau County successfully challenges the assessed value of his property, the county pays the full amount of any judgment or settlement. The county makes these payments out of the general fund from taxes collected throughout the county including Glen Cove.
The lawsuit names Charles O'Shea as chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors and Santa Albicocco as Nassau County treasurer as respondents. It is returnable in court by Nov. 30.
During a press conference announcing the lawsuit, the Glen Cove school district's attorney, Robert Sapir, said, "The Glen Cove School District uses the city's tax rolls while all the other school districts use Nassau County's. We have attempted to get the county to treat us the same way they treat other school districts by allowing us to use the county tax rolls and therefore be held harmless by the county in the repayment of tax certioraris. The county refuses to do so. We sue not to compel them to treat us the same way but if they're not going to treat us the same way, then Glen Cove taxpayers should not be taxed for services they don't get. Right now Glen Cove taxpayers pay taxes into the county that are used to pay back the certioraris of other school districts. When Glen Cove pays a certiorari, it is just through the school taxes in Glen Cove, paid fully by the Glen Cove taxpayers. The taxpayers in the Glen Cove school district should be given a break in their county taxes and the county taxes should reflect the lower services that are provided. For example, taxpayers who reside in localities within the county that provide their own police services do not pay that portion of the county tax that is paid by residents of localities that do not have their own police forces."
Superintendent of Glen Cove schools, Frank DeLuca added, "It's really about children's education. The school district is forced to spend over $1 million per year in repayment of tax certiorari. That's money that doesn't go to children's education. It's an issue we had brought before the county legislature over a year ago with the support of the mayor and city council. Unfortunately, we never got a response therefore we felt this action was required in order to have the children and taxpayers in Glen Cove get a fair shake."
Simply put, a tax certiorari is a protest filed by individuals or businesses protesting or disagreeing with the amount of property taxes they must pay. The year-to-date total in tax certiorari refunds, (July 1999-Oct. 1999) is just over $1 million. During Glen Cove school board meetings, the payment of tax certs is seen as a necessary evil, a constant drain on funds that could be used to educate the district's students. The sentiment is heightened when the new state mandates are considered along with the nature of the school district's student population. The funds could be put to better use in helping students meet the higher standards ensuring, in the long run, a high school diploma.
Councilman Mike Norman, a CPA, is the city's liaison to the board of education and a long-time proponent of making the Nassau County taxing system equitable for the people of Glen Cove. Mr. Norman feels the action taken by the school district is a step in the right direction. "The injustice has been going on for too long and up to now, we haven't had any action or attention by Nassau County." Glen Cove CPA Janet Bates-Wilkens, who has been vocal on the issue of tax certioraris and the inequity with which Glen Cove tax payers are faced said, "I applaud the efforts of the Glen Cove school board to address this issue of tax inequity. It's gone on too long and it's cost the Glen Cove school district dearly. Millions of dollars have been paid out of school funds, not for desks, not for teacher salaries, or student transportation but for school tax refunds and this is deplorable. We're not on a level playing field with every other school district in Nassau Country. Although the suit does not take away our obligation to pay out school tax refunds, if some of our tax dollars paid to the county can be redirected for use in our schools, I feel that's significant."
Mayor Thomas Suozzi fully supports the school district's effort and hopes the lame duck county legislature or the newly-elected legislature makes correcting the inequity a top priority. "Paying its own tax grievances costs the school district an average of $1.8 million each year. I have been advocating a change since becoming mayor six years ago. There is no reason why Nassau County should not pay the full amount of any judgment or settlement awarded to a taxpayer who successfully challenges the value of his or her property in Glen Cove as is done elsewhere in the county.
Former Mayor Vincent "Jimmy" Suozzi, who tried to correct the inequity during his terms as mayor of Glen Cove in the 1980s, said while he is not an attorney, the petition of the board of education does not address itself to responsible defendants. "The defendants, Charles O'Shea, and Santa Albicocco do not have the 'legal authority' to grant any reduction in assessments or give refunds of taxes to any taxpayer without the approval of the Nassau County Legislature. The relief sought does not directly benefit the school district financially. The county law must be changed to give the Glen Cove School District the same equality as other school districts in Nassau County. During my term as mayor a meeting had been arranged by my office which included members of the school board seated at the time, Abe Seldin, the chairman of the board of assessors to discuss the situation and the steps necessary to resolve this continuing problem. The school board did not want to get involved in any political controversy back then. That attitude has not changed and the board continues to refuse to this day any help from within the community. The county comptroller, Republican Fred Parola, wants each school district in the county to share the burden of tax refunds. Until his recommendation is acted upon, if ever, the Glen Cove School District needs the political clout of the Nassau County Legislature."