The debates over an appointed versus elected assessor have been around ever since municipalities had to modernize the way they evaluate private properties for the purpose of raising taxes.
It’s also an issue of exceeding interest to the many who pay property taxes in the county. And as this is an election year, with Democratic County Executive Laura Curran facing reelection, it’s certain to become an election issue as her assessment policy continues to be scrutinized by the Republican Majority in the Legislature.
Curran took office in 2018 with a promise to fix what she called a broken assessment system and restore fairness and accuracy. Under her predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano, the rolls had been frozen in 2011, and there arose a discrepancy between the static market values used by the county to determine the assessed value and the actual market value spurred by a rising real estate market. Many homeowners grieved their assessment before the county’s Assessment Review Commission (ARC), a body that settled disputes.
In March 2018, the county executive unfroze the rolls and also hired David Moog of Queens as the county assessor to begin a reassessment of the more than 400,000 residential and commercial properties on the county rolls. Reaching out to a non-county resident reflected the reality that few were certified and qualified under the exacting standards of the International Institute of Assessing Officers.
In September of that year, Curran signed an executive order requiring Moog “to set the county’s levels of assessment for the January 2019 tentative assessment roll for tax year 2020/2021 to maximize assessment accuracy and integrity, enable the county to defend successfully against ratio challenges and avoid the need for mass settlements at the ARC and payment of excessive refunds.”
Reassessment was not without controversy. In a widely-cited study, Newsday determined that about 65 percent of Nassau property owners will see an increase as a result of the county executive’s policy.
Two recent moves by Curran have raised the ire of her Republican opponents. First, she froze the assessment rolls for the 2022-23 tax year, citing what she called in an interview with Anton Media Group the “huge spike in home sales and huge leaps in their market value because of folks moving out from the city.”
She added, “You have chaos in the residential market, which is a good kind of chaos, and chaos in the commercial market, which is unsettling. So I figured, let’s keep a little bit of certainty in uncertain times for all of our property owners.”
Second, Curran appointed the chair of the ARC, Robin Laveman, to replace Moog as county assessor. Moog, citing ill health, has been moved to an advisory position. Laveman has to be approved by the legislature, and if she is rejected, can serve in an acting capacity for six months.
On Jan. 12, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R–New Hyde Park) stood in front of the County Executive and Legislative Building with three colleagues to criticize Laveman’s appointment and announce the intention of introducing a bill to put a resolution on the 2021 Election Day ballot to reinstall the elected assessor.
Nassau County voters, in a 2008 referendum, eliminated the position. Two years ago, the Majority introduced a resolution to restore the elected post, again via referendum. It was vetoed by Curran, and the Majority, which holds an 11-8 edge in the body, could not garner the two Democratic votes needed to override the veto.
Nicolello was careful to say at the conference that he was not attacking Laveman, stating. “She’s a nice person. But she’s not an assessor. She’s not certified. She simply does not have the qualifications currently to serve as an assessor. It’s our understanding that she’s taking classes. That does not qualify her to serve as assessor. Just as taking law classes does not qualify you to be a judge.”
Nicolello charged that “The reassessment process has been nothing short of a mess. There is nobody that is being held responsible. We need an assessor who is responsible to the people.”
Legislator John Ferretti called reassessment “flawed from the onset” and called the resolution of the elected assessor an opportunity for residents “to have a voice…to say, ‘You know what? We’re tired of calling the Department of Assessment and getting no one to answer the phone. We’re tired of leaving messages with the county assessor, and getting no response. We don’t accept the fact that our property taxes have skyrocketed, while the county assessor did not hold a single meeting with the public to explain what’s going on.’ ”
“The bottom line is that when Laura Curran campaigned for office, she said the reason why the assessment system was broken was because we had a frozen roll, we had mass settlements and we had an unqualified assessor,” said Legislator Steve Rhoads. “And after this entire process, what did we end up with? Mass settlements. A frozen roll. And now, the recommended appointment of an assessor who is not qualified. What we saw over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, after being promised an accurate, transparent and fair assessment process, was anything but.”
In a statement, Curran said, “Ms. Laveman is extremely qualified to take on this new role, having overhauled the Assessment Review Commission’s outdated operations and streamlining processes and procedures. She also ensured transparency and accessibility for residents by implementing various outreach and education opportunities. I look forward to the Legislature’s swift action on Ms. Laveman’s appointment, making her the first woman to hold the position in the over 80 year history of the department.”
Reacting to the press conference, county spokesperson Christine Geed stated, “While the county executive is focused on distributing vaccines to protect residents and bring our businesses back, the Republican Majority is focused on playing politics with assessment. Further, if the Republican Majority wanted an elected county assessor, then they shouldn’t have led the charge to turn the position into an appointed one back in 2008.”