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Germino, DeRiggi-Whitton Head to Head on ‘Guarantee’

Robert Germino

Question: Nassau County is currently being sued by 41 school districts claiming to be negatively affected by the County Executive and Legislature’s majority caucus’ decision to remove the county’s “guarantee” on tax certs. If you were already a member of the Legislature when this came before that body, would you have voted for or against the idea? How do you answer schools, towns and villages who complain that local taxes must now go up in order to pay to refund assessment mistakes that take place at the county level? Do you consider this a true savings to the taxpayers in the 18th LD?  

Answer: The elimination of the Nassau County Guarantee ends inequity in tax certiorari refunds; that is, the Glen Cove City School District will no longer be the only school district in Nassau County to have its residents subsidize the refunds of others without receiving reciprocal recompense.

Except for the Glen Cove City School District, every school district in Nassau County uses the county’s assessment of property (also called the “county roll”) to determine its budget. Almost all school districts in Nassau County, therefore, collect property taxes based upon the county roll.

Although county law allows for the City of Glen Cove to adopt the county roll, it chose to assess properties on its own. The school district uses the “city roll” for its budget.

Before Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s reform, all school districts in Nassau County—except for Glen Cove—were not required to budget for tax certiorari refunds. The county would “guarantee” the refund, relieving the school district of repaying it from its almost two-thirds share of property taxes. Furthermore, a school district that shares its boundaries with a municipality (e.g., the City of Glen Cove and the Glen Cove City School District) is not entitled to the Nassau County Guarantee. In Nassau County, Glen Cove is the only community with this distinction.

Glen Cove City School District spends approximately $1.5 million annually for tax certiorari refunds. It began its fight against refund inequity in court almost twelve years ago. The school district argued that the residents of our community should not be forced to subsidize the county guarantee and not receive its benefit. It initially won its battle against Nassau County but then lost on appeal on Oct. 3, 2006.  

There has been bipartisan support for ending the Nassau County Guarantee. In the June 16, 2000 edition of this paper, former Democrat Nassau County Legislator Brian Muellers stated, “This unfair system has placed a disproportionate financial burden on the taxpayers and children of Glen Cove.” In the May 30, 2002 edition of Newsday, former Democrat Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman wrote, “Allocating the burden to pay real-estate tax refunds among the taxing entities that benefited from the taxes is the inherently fair thing to do.”  

Despite the reasons to support ending the county guarantee, my opponent wants to keep it. As of this writing, she stated on her campaign website that she’ll lead the fight against ending it. She is entitled to disagree with former Democrat elected officials who supported ending the county guarantee and Republicans who implemented the plan to end it. In the end, however, she is fighting for an “unfair system” that is against the taxpayers of the Glen Cove City School District. I would not.

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton

Question: Nassau County is currently being sued by 41 school districts claiming to be negatively affected by the County Executive and Legislature’s majority caucus’ decision to remove the county’s “guarantee” on tax certs. If you were already a member of the Legislature when this came before that body, would you have voted for or against the idea? How do you answer schools, towns and villages who complain that local taxes must now go up in order to pay to refund assessment mistakes that take place at the county level? Do you consider this a true savings to the taxpayers in the 18th LD?  

Answer: Since the 1940s, Nassau County has been handling the assessing of real estate and these assessments are the basis upon which tax rates are set. The county has also been guaranteeing the accuracy of its assessments. This means that if a property owner challenges a tax bill in a certiorari proceeding and wins because of a faulty assessment and receives a tax refund, the county would pay the refund. This is important because the county would repay not only a portion of the challenged county taxes, but also any school taxes that had to be returned.

Now the county does not want to be responsible for errors it makes in assessments and has passed a law saying that the school district within which the property lies will have to pay the refund for the school taxes. At first this may seem like a good, simple solution, but I believe in the end it does not solve the underlying problems.

The first concern I have with ending the county guarantee would be the havoc it would cause to our schools. While the county taxes would go down, the schools would now be responsible for the tax certs and school taxes would have to go up to cover same. This added cost, which is significant, together with the fact that there is now an annual tax cap of 2 percent, would seriously impair each school district’s ability to function. I would not vote for the repeal of the county guarantee because of the harmful effect it would have on our schools.

There are two other assessment issues. The main area that needs to be addressed occurs only in the City of Glen Cove. Our city is the only government with a co-terminus school district, both the school district and the city have the same boundaries. Because of this fact, according to New York State law, the Glen Cove School District has always been paying tax refunds for assessment errors. This means that Glen Cove school taxes include money for these refunds. At the same time, however, the residents of Glen Cove, in their county tax bills, are also contributing to tax refunds for school districts throughout the county. Glen Cove residents should not have to pay a double burden and we should have that portion of our county taxes which goes towards refunds to other districts eliminated.

There is a second problem to be considered. County taxes should be adjusted based on a formula which takes into account the disparities between the refunds which the county is required to pay for property within each school district. Some districts may be awarded $5 million and others may be closer to $1 million. Differences of this magnitude do exist because 85 percent of the refunds are due to commercial property challenges. A formula should be established which would cause the county taxes for residents of each school district to be adjusted based on the sum of the total refunds. This type of approach is already being used and would be similar to other adjustments in county tax rates applied to each community based on such things as the amount of police service required.