The coldest night since 1893, with snow blowing, a blustery-cold, icy wind and temperature well below zero, did not have any impact on keeping people from attending the meeting at the Port Washington Public Library Lapham room on Jan. 15 regarding property reassessments. In fact, the meeting room was filled to its full seating capacity of 178 with people standing and sitting on the floor.
Nassau County Legislator Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) coordinated the meeting in response to a request made by Sherrill Robinson, a concerned Port Washington resident and homeowner and approximately 85 residents petitioning for the meeting. Sherrill helped to notify many angry and confused homeowners in our community of the meeting to answer questions and provide information concerning Nassau County's recent reassessment. Representatives from the Department of Assessment and the Assessment Review Commission (ARC) were present to provide information and instruction on the grievance process, which was sorely needed.
It was disclosed that this was the first complete reassessment on all homes in Nassau County since 1938. The reassessment was imposed by a court order, which was the result from a citizen's law suit. Cole-Layer-Trumble (CLT) was hired at the cost of $34 million to taxpayers to evaluate 415,000 parcels of land in Nassau County. It was stated that yes, there were lots of mistakes; in fact, many, many mistakes done by CLT that are not yet resolved. No one from CLT was present to answer questions and discuss the flaws. It is now up to homeowners and the Nassau County Assessment Review Commission (ARC), which is not adequately staffed in ratio, but hiring additional staffing, to resolve mistakes.
The situation regarding tax increases not being capped and the increases not being phased in gradually, has resulted in some homeowner's taxes to be increased over 100 percent in one year. In addition to causing tremendous anxiety and hardship, families may be forced out of their homes since they cannot afford the sudden increase. The question was raised, "Why weren't increases phased in the same way for homeowners as for businesses, condos and co-ops?" The answer was that Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow overruled the law. Article 1805 of the Real Property Tax Law limitation of increases states that a homeowner's assessed value should not go up more than 6 percent in one year from the previous year's assessment roll, and 20 percent in any five year period. Judge Winslow made a decision hoping to immediately and fairly resolve the tax differences for homeowners. Unfortunately, this decision has negatively impacted some homeowners by allowing their taxes to go up several thousand dollars in one year which they may not be able to afford; especially the elderly or new homeowners just starting out. That is unless the decision is overruled by higher authorities.
Glen Borin, chairperson of the Nassau County Assessment Review Commission and the panel was most sympathetic to residents' concerns and eager to do their utmost regarding problems homeowners are experiencing. He explained the grievance procedure for homeowners to file themselves or have an attorney file on their behalf. The deadline to file a tax grievance is March 1 each year. This cut-off date cannot be missed. Annual reassessments are planned for Nassau County homes for the next six years with the right to grieve reassessments each year.
The website, www.co.nassau.ny.us/arc, can be used to download forms, receive additional information about the assessment review process and access links to the assessor's office. The www.mynassauproperty.com website allows for homeowners to search for records on file with the county concerning their assessment, as well as homes that are considered to be of comparable value (comps). However, the records may not be up to date in the county clerk's office and match (CLT), and the comps may not be accurate. It was disclosed that certain areas, known as "hot spots," were incorrectly compared to much more expensive areas and may need to be completely redone. A suggestion was made that local real estate agents may be called in to remedy this problem since they are most familiar with property values. Also, it was mentioned that if real estate agents from the community were to have done the reassessment originally, many of these problems resulting from Cole-Layer-Trumble's review may not have occurred.
The number of grievances has gone up in great numbers from the last tax disclosure notice. Legislator Craig Johnson offered to send grievance applications to individuals by calling his office at 571-6211, if they were unable to obtain them by other means.
One homeowner mentioned that they challenged their assessments twice and won both times, and they have not as of yet had their tax bill corrected. Additionally, another person mentioned that they were granted a reduction by CLT from their last grievance, and now their new appraisal suddenly went up 38 percent wiping out their reduction. "Would the previous reduction from CLT be valid grounds for filing another grievance?" they questioned.
Another homeowner in Sands Point stated that after filing their last form, the response indicated that no one even looked at it. "No attempt was made to fix the problem concerning the records on their property being full of errors, i.e. they had 30 percent more land than they actually did, more bathrooms, etc." In order to fix these types of problems, homeowners were informed that a county field assessor would need to be contacted if discrepancies are found and visit the property in order to make corrections. The number to call to arrange for a field assessor is: 571-2038. This must be done before the March 1, 2004 deadline for the current year to reflect any reductions.
A question presented by one real estate agent was "If a home is sold for $200,000 less than the value that it had been assessed for which is $830,000, can that be an argument for a reassessment reduction?" Answer: "The closing statement can be attached and filed with the grievance, but may not necessarily be considered for a reduction. There are other factors to be taken in consideration, such as time between the date of the sale, improvements and value of what other houses are being sold for in the neighborhood. Sometimes a house may be sold for an unusually low price."
The issue of exemptions such as Basic Star, Enhanced Star for Seniors, Veterans, Disability, etc. was brought up. It was agreed that exemptions, especially Enhanced Star for Seniors, need to be increased because they are being wiped out by increased costs. The school budget increasing from 66 million to 84 million in addition to the Medicare burden being on taxpayers, illustrates that we can't possibly continue to cover all these costs and we need relief from the state.
Legislator Craig Johnson and representatives from the Department of Assessment and Review Commission did their best to answer questions from the public. However, the time allotted was not adequate and many questions remain unanswered. Additionally, questions asked exposed serious mistakes in the system that still need to be further investigated for resolution. Many residents at the meeting had indicated that they were very interested in another meeting, and would like to be notified should there be further informative meetings planned or lobbying efforts made regarding the Nassau County reassessment situation. It is obvious that the reassessment process will take a long and complicated journey before a resolution that is fair and equitable for all is reached.