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(Ed.'s note: Our Nassau County Legislator Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) has provided some information from the county on topics related to the reassessment, which include frequently asked questions concerning the effect of the reassessment on veterans' exemptions, a piece titled "Can Your Assessed Value Decrease and Your Taxes Increase? and STAR exemption change explanation. Legislator Johnson wants taxpayers to know that his office is available to help answer questions. His number is 571-6211.)

For the past few weeks, this paper has reached out to the community requesting that homeowners let us know how they feel about their Nassau County Property Reassessments. Their reactions varied, obviously depending upon a decrease or increase in their taxes, or particularly in the case of our senior citizens, their financial circumstances. Generally speaking, according to our Nassau County Legislator Craig Johnson, Sands Point and Beacon Hill received lower property assessments, while the Park section saw one of the highest increases in town.

Those who are fortunate and saw either a small increase or, even better, a decrease in their taxes spoke very softly when asked in person how "they did." Understandably, they didn't want to wake the tax gods .

Others received what they considered acceptable increases. One Reid Avenue taxpayer commented that her assessment went up about 20 percent. "It wasn't a surprise,'" she said, crediting the County Assessor's Office for doing a good job in preparing the taxpayers for what most Port people presumed would be a hike.... Especially because Port's property values have risen 17 percent, which is the second highest increase in the county.

Taking it in stride the Reid resident noted, "It showed me the extent to which I've had a tax break all these years."

However, homeowners whose taxes were bumped up considerably, or to an amount that makes their homes unaffordable for them, are upset for several reasons, and their reactions range from grudging acceptance to a call for a tax revolt and a class action.

Our seniors on fixed incomes are particularly outraged and view the increases as a betrayal. They argue that they've worked hard to make Port a desirable area, adding much to the quality of life here and consequently its higher property values. Notes one senior, "These are the people whose tax dollars in the last half of the 20th century paid for all those new schools, better roads, enhanced police service and more." And now in their sunset years, while many just scrape by to keep their homes and stay near their families, friends and familiar surroundings, their financial and emotional security is being threatened with tax increases they cannot afford. "I'll have to sell my house," declares a frightened and angry lifelong resident.

One senior reports that with the high property, town and county taxes, increased medical and prescription costs and the high cost of living, this increase in taxes is a horrific added burden to most senior citizens.

A 72-year-old, 40-year resident of Port, writes, "I was totally devastated by the reassessment. My taxes were increased by more than $2,300. I live in a small cape and am trying to survive on social security and a small IRA account."

Continuing, she says, "I love being able to walk to the town dock to see the sunsets, walk to the train station and use the library."

"There is no way I can afford these taxes. All of the new people moving in want everything. They have no consideration for the older people trying to stay in their homes." She asks rhetorically, "Why am I being driven out of my home because wealthy people can afford to pay exorbitant prices for small homes?"

Another senior reports that after retiring from the Telephone Company in 1987 after working there for 35 years, all she has to live on is a pension and Social Security. "I have not received an increase in my pension since I retired," she adds. "I feel it is unfair for my assessment to be increased, as I have not added anything to my property and should not have to pay for all the improvements and additions my neighbors have added."

Many other seniors in town responded to our request in this frightened and distressed way.

Nassau County Legislator Craig Johnson is very sensitive to their plight. When the reassessments were first announced, Legislator Johnson attempted to have the current tax assessments on senior citizens' homes "grandfathered in." And then, when the senior sold the house, the new homeowner would be taxed based on the new reassessment figure." However, the state informed him that this was impossible.

"We're exploring all avenues to see how we can help the hardest hit," said Legislator Johnson.

Many Port seniors also refuse to take this lying down. Naomi Beckley and Ruth Truckenback have become the spokespersons for a group of seniors who started an organization back in 2000 called S.C.A.R. (Senior Citizens Against Reassessment). "Port Washington is the way it is today because we paid our dues," they declared.

Ms. Beckley reports that 237 seniors, who have lived in their homes for 30 years or more, signed a petition which was sent to county, state and town officials. This group, which represents those "who have lived the longest in Nassau County but can afford to pay the least. (in taxes)" describe the increases as "a blow below the belt" to a group that has served this county the most.

Ms. Beckley is more determined now than ever to have something done for the seniors. Her group is still going strong and seniors interested in joining in the fight can reach her at 883-0829.

Beside our seniors, other taxpayers also have issues with the reassessment.

One young family poses the question: "Is the middle class being eliminated?"

They purchased their 900 plus sq. ft. home in 1993, a quaint 1898 Victorian, which they now realize is a real estate term which means "needs a lot of work." An old kitchen and bathrooms, and virtually no closet space did not deter them from purchasing their home, which they love as much as they love living in Port Washington.

They advise that when they bought their house, they had been looking for a house in their price range, and taxes were a large factor in that equation. So nine years ago, they carefully checked the tax recalculation that eliminated the senior citizen and veteran's exemption they were not eligible for. "The purchase was a difficult stretch for us," they note," but it allowed us a place to live while we made changes as we could."

Now they advise that although their new assessment doubles the taxes from what they're paying now, it also almost triples them from the time their home was purchased in 1993. "Our cost of living increases certainly are not covering this," they point out.

"Our dreams of expansion almost a decade and two children later have not been realized. The cost of construction hasn't been feasible for us. Ironically, the amount we were quoted for home equity in order to build, which was not affordable, is almost the same as our monthly increase in taxes!"

Saving for their children's' education and even their own retirement, they ask, "What is the middle class to do, or anyone on a fixed income for that matter."

Moreover, they ask, "Is it legal to receive this type of increase?" and conclude," It certainly is immoral to force someone to move from their home...and where do they go!" They hope that if there is not already a law that limits the size of an increase for homeowners that purchased their homes based on certain criteria, that one will be enacted and applicable to these new assessments.

In a similar vein, others who overpaid for their homes, some sacrificing living space and property size to live in their neighborhood, because the low taxes made their monthly nut affordable feel they have lost value. "When I go to sell my house now, it's less affordable on a monthly basis, so the likelihood is that I will have to lower the asking price from what I might have asked prior to the reassessment because the taxes are higher. The county has effectively reduced the market value of my home, and taken away some of my expectations for my initial investment."

A couple who love this town see themselves as being penalized by unfair taxes because they live in a place that is enviable, for the most part because of the community minded, good people who choose to live here.

They are also upset over the rash of speculators hunting for and buying one and a half story homes on double lots (120X100) for $500,000 and bulldozing them down and building two new two and a half story monster homes, selling for near $1,000,000, thereby bringing huge returns on their investments within one year. They feel that these speculators are backed by mutual funds or rich investors looking for an alternative to the floundering stock market, and artificially and temporarily drive up the assessed value of all homes in Port.

Another aspect of this argument is an issue for some. It involves the criteria by which the reassessment is based: on the square footage and only the exterior of the house. Some homeowners have pumped thousands of dollars into interior improvements. Even if you grant that certain improvements have needed permits that as a matter of course raise the homeowners taxes, still some sellers reap much higher prices because of the improved interior of the house. Homes with the same square footage that will not get the same amount for their unimproved condition, are being compared to these homes.

One gentleman wrote, "I am looking at an increase of almost $2,500, or about 50 percent more than I paid last year. It is, however, less the tax increase, but the huge jump in my assessment that bothers me---I only purchased my home three and a half years ago, but am told its value has risen more than 50 percent of what I paid for it. I'm happy of course that the value of my home has increased, but I do not believe it has increased so much in so short a time."

Relaying what he plans to explain to the reassessors when he has his appointment at Cole-Thayer-Trumble, he writes, "My position is that their assessment fails to take into account the condition of my home. My roof needs to be replaced soon, as does the furnace, and the kitchen and bathrooms appear to be the original ones built with the house in 1941, so as you can imagine they are pretty funky. I suspect if I spent $100,000 to upgrade my home, it might actually fetch the county's idea of its "full market value," but as it is, no way!"

Ironically, this taxpayer states that he is actually in favor of the reassessments in principle. "I believe those of us who possess the means to live in an affluent community like Port Washington should pay our fair share of taxes, and have probably been taxed less than we should have been relative to those who live in neighborhoods where the property is less valuable. Had my taxes gone up $500 or even $1,000, I would have accepted it as fair. But the basis for raising my taxes, namely, the supposed market value of my home, is out of whack with reality and that's what I am complaining about."

A family from the "backside" of Beacon Hill has a similar complaint. They say their "modest" home was compared to larger and more imposing houses on Beacon Hill to determine its market value. "Unlike Beacon Hill, we are behind a median wall, overlook an industrial park and do not have beach, mooring or tennis rights although we are closer to these facilities. Nevertheless, our new taxes would be well over $9,000 per year!" The couple declare that "unless we protest and demonstrate our deep concerns, nothing will change. We will be forced to pay exorbitant taxes for escalating budgets with diminishing services."

Interestingly, there is a flip side to receiving a higher than expected full market value; that's looking at a lower than expected number. This group of taxpayers, while thrilled that their tax increase will be less, and even reluctant to make an appointment even if they have any minor corrections that might lower the assessment even further, is a bit indignant over their perceived lower property values. "I'd ask a lot more than that," said one. "I'm glad they don't know about my state-of-the-art kitchen," said another.

Some taxpayers can't find much rhyme or reason in the assessments. One such homeowner writes, "the tax impact disclosure statement values the "market value" of my house at $124,000 higher than the sale price of the house across the street that sold last month. Cole-Thayer-Trumble feels that my house has a market value that is $273,900 higher than the house next door which was sold last spring."

A Soundview homeowner is also confused. "After speaking with my neighbors and all of us having different versions of the same development house, I cannot understand what, if any, method was used to value the different houses. None of us understand what these numbers mean."

A resident who lives in a home without a basement next to the Salem area, whose projected taxes increased $1,239 to $8,529, does not understand why her house was compared with three homes in the Salem area. The "comps" all had basements and slate roofs and has a higher value based on the fact that they are located in the more desirable Salem proper.

Legislator Johnson suggests that some of these inaccurate valuations may be fixed in the future and also take care of some of the "wobbles" of the housing market, as well as those of the floundering economy in general. He advises that pursuant to the court order mandating Nassau County to perform the reassessment, the county be required to reassess every year for the next six years.

Other points related to the reassessment include:

* As we all receive basically the same county services, why do some people have to pay so much more for them?

* Concerns over the impending impact of the $66 million school facilities bond, which for the most part is still to be realized on the tax bill.

* Requests that officials crack down on illegal immigrants.

* Questions regarding the dubious fairness of raising the taxes of those who have worked hard to improve their homes and communities, and then end up losing the fruits of their labors by being forced to pay ridiculously high taxes.

Legislator Johnson is genuinely concerned about the effects on his constituents of this reassessment. "My office has been, and continues to be, open to all the taxpayers in this district." He urges everyone who is unhappy about his or her reassessment to challenge it. "Get another appraisal of your home to make sure the "fair" market value is accurate. If you challenge it, and still feel the assessment is incorrect, formally object in January when the county entertains tax grievances.

Legislator Johnson's office phone number is 571-6211.

One responder took a broader view. This taxpayer feels that the whole reassessment problem is a symptom of a deeper malaise. He says, "While a fair and uniform system of real estate assessment is in the public interest, the real problem facing the residents of Nassau County has and continues to be reducing the enormous cost of funding all governments and school districts in the county which has by far the highest property taxes out of the 3,000 counties in the United States. Until governments on all levels, from the state to the local improvements districts, address and resolve this problem, the property taxes in Nassau County will continue to remain an unfair burden to all taxpayers."

We're sure he's not alone in these feelings.


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