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Town of North Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Rocco Iannarelli encouraged taxpayers to file for the exemptions for which they are entitled.

The Village of Manorhaven's Mayor and Board of Trustees recently invited public officials to answer residents' questions about their taxes--in particular, property taxes. Present were County Legislator Wayne Wink, Town of North Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Rocco Iannarelli, and Dolores Sedacca, self-described "ombudsman" for the County Assessor's Office. Each of the panelists pointed out that our local tax system is very complex, and they endeavored to clarify it, to answer residents' questions, and to tell residents how they might apply for tax discounts.

One of the main issues that the panelists clarified is the relationship among assessment, tax rates, and total taxes. They explained that there is an inverse relationship between assessment and tax rates; that is, given that there is a specific amount of money that the localities must raise, the higher the assessments, the lower the tax rate and vice-versa. Iannarelli explained that the assessments simply determine how the total taxes are apportioned among individual homeowners and owners of commercial properties. Neither the assessor nor the receiver of taxes has any control over the total amount of taxes to be raised; that is determined by the various taxing authorities: county legislature, town council, village governments, school districts and special taxing authorities.

The panelists encouraged those who believe that their assessment is too high to file a grievance. Wink brought the appropriate forms to the meeting, but suggested that an easier way to file a request for review is on line. (The best way is to go to Nassau County's main web site-nassaucountyny.gov and choose the "Assessment Review Commission.) There you can review the information on record about your property, comparable sales, the current and predicted future assessment, and-if desired-file a request for an assessment review. Wink and Sedacca both agreed that a third party is not necessary; a constituent can easily fill out the forms him/herself rather than pay a percentage to an attorney or other third party. The period to file assessment appeals ends on March 1.

Wink conceded that, in spite of Nassau County's effort to improve the accuracy of the assessment process, there is still a large number of challenges-approximately 140,000 a year. Of these, he said that approximately 10 percent are approved outright by the Assessment Review Committee, and about 40 percent of the 90 percent that are disapproved go on to the next level: the Small Claims Assessment Review. Of these, 40-50 percent are approved, making the total number of approved appeals about one third of the total. He added that, by going on line, you can also get an opinion as to whether your appeal is likely to result in an assessment reduction. "This is an amazing opportunity," he said. Sedacca pointed out that appeals can never result in an increase in assessment. Wink acknowledged, "There will always be some imperfection in the system." He went on to say, "The goal is to get a system that is completely accurate not only in reality but in perception. I believe that the system is a lot fairer than it was five years ago, but until people perceive it as fair, you will continue to see challenges."

The panelists also encouraged constituents to file for the tax exemptions. Those that are currently available include STAR, for which everyone is potentially eligible, as well as exemptions for senior citizens who meet certain income requirements and veterans. There is also a home improvement exemption that can amortize an increased assessment that results from an addition or enhancement to one's home. All of the forms for these exemptions can be found on line as well on the county assessor's portion of the county web site, as well as at Rocco Iannarelli's office at town hall. (He passed out copies of the forms at the meeting.) Requests for exemptions can be filed at any time during the year. Iannarelli proudly pointed out that he has made the receiver of taxes' office much more accessible and "user friendly," having renovated the office, increased and enhanced customer service, changed and improved the phone system, and made it possible to pay taxes by credit card or (for a small fee) on line.

A question raised by a few participants was, "If property values are going down; why did my assessment go up?" Sedacca responded that one reason is that current assessments are based on sales that took place in 2007, or even late 2006. She encouraged constituents to check the 2009-10 assessment, which is based on sales that are happening currently. [Editor's note: I did this, and, for what it's worth, our property assessment is going down.] Iannarelli pointed out that 50 percent of the people in Nassau County did, in fact, get a reduced assessment and reiterated the inverse relationship between assessments and tax rates. "What is important, he said, is that we have a level playing field." Wink added that, in some cases, they may still be making adjustments for properties that were dramatically under-assessed in the past, because the law prohibits raising any individual property's assessment more than 6 percent in one year or 20 percent in 5 years. Iannarelli pointed out that, prior to the recent re-assessment, assessments were based on 1930s property values, and added that the county is moving toward having the assessed value of a property accurately reflect the fair market value.

Another question that was raised by the residents had to do with Manorhaven Village assessments. Mayor Nicholas Capozzi responded that they use the county's assessment; which does have drawbacks, but saves the village money. One resident asked if one can appeal an assessment for a rental property; the answer was that you can appeal any property that you own; whether or not you live in it. In response to another question about what the county is doing to reduce school taxes, the largest portion of our property taxes, Wink said that the county legislature has no jurisdiction over local school districts. He added, however, that the legislature is doing what it can to lobby for increased state aid and to encourage administrative cooperation among districts to achieve savings.

Despite the fact that this was designed as a general meeting, a number of questions regarding individual situations were raised. Dolores Sedacca invited anyone with questions about specific properties to call her office at 516-571-0574. She said, "If I am there, I will answer the phone myself."


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