It would, of course, be manifestly unfair to paint an entire community as greedy and guilty of being bad neighbors. But a bunch of whiners and complainers up in Sea Cliff may actually be managing to create the perception that they represent the whole village with their griping that Sea Cliff has been unfairly targeted for huge tax increases with the reassessment of all Nassau County properties.
Last week's edition of this paper carried yet another "woe is us" letter in which the author asserts that County Legislator Brian Muellers is at fault for their pending county tax increases. The letter bemoans the fate of Sea Cliff and blames Legislator Muellers for "a whopping 30 percent tax increase facing residents." That's a bogus claim. Here's why:
Several years ago, Nassau County was sued in federal court by taxpayers from communities whose homes were being overtaxed. The argument they advanced was that a house in Freeport, for example, with a fair market value half that of a house in Sea Cliff, might be burdened with twice the amount of county taxes as the Sea Cliff house. The reason for that was because the Sea Cliff house was built before 1938 and the Freeport house was built after, and since the county tax system was based on 1938 building costs, Sea Cliff and places like it got an unfair break.
As time passed, the disparity became more pronounced. The fair market values of homes on the North Shore skyrocketed while the values of homes in other parts of the county didn't keep pace. Now, some 60 years later, a house in Sea Cliff might have half the tax bill or less of a house of the same value in another community.
I'd venture a guess that virtually everyone reading this letter knows of at least one case of a home in Sea Cliff worth more than a half million dollars with a total tax bill of $2,500 or even less. Chances are, however, they don't know of a soul in Glen Head - in the same school district - that has a house worth more than a half million dollars with a total tax bill under $10,000. This is Sea Cliff's best kept public secret. The village has old homes, so it has old taxes. It's that simple.
In the federal lawsuit, the court told the county, "Your taxing system is unfair. Either you come up with a fix, or we'll fix it for you." So, to comply with the federal mandate, the county legislature enacted a law that says everyone has to be treated equally, and the way you do that is to reassess homes to determine their current fair market value and then tax them all based on those values. The principle is simple: The more valuable your property, the more you pay in taxes.
For some, but not all homeowners in Sea Cliff, this change to a new, improved and fair method of taxation may produce a dramatic change, not because they're being targeted, but because they've been underpaying for decades. But there's this small, and highly vocal, bunch who are angry nevertheless that the party's over. Here's the reason why:
With every single house in Nassau County being reassessed, it's only a matter of time until all taxes - county, town, village, school, library, etc. - are adjusted to reflect these new reassessments. It's estimated that total taxes will go up in about one-third of the cases, will stay the same in another third, and will actually go down in the remaining one-third.
The first group consists of the lucky under-payers who've had a substantial chunk of their tax bill picked up by the unfortunate over-payers in the third group. So instead of saying, "Oops, our luck's finally run out - it's time to pull our end of the wagon," they're blaming everyone else for some perceived misfortune that's being worked upon them. It's as if they think the guy in the next town is supposed to pay most of the costs of providing their kids with an education. I doubt, however, that homeowners in Glen Head really believe it's their responsibility to pay a disproportionately higher share of running North Shore School District than homeowners in neighboring Sea Cliff.
First, the complainers blamed their own mayor and trustees. But they don't have anything to do with county taxes. So, now they're looking to blame Brian Muellers. And that's a bum rap, plain and simple.
Mr. Muellers is not the reason that some Sea Cliff taxes are going up, any more than the village officials are the reason. The inherent unconstitutional unfairness of a system that, for most of the past century, has wrongly benefited so many for so long - a good deal of whom reside in Sea Cliff - is the reason.
It's actually quite remarkable that no one has come forward to explain to these people that the free ride is over and they do their whole community a disservice by carrying on like a bunch of spoiled brats.
Michael A. Levy