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October 04, 2004

Assessor Levinson: "There is a Better Way to Fund School Districts"

Media Contact: Randolph Yunker - (516) 571-2490

(Mineola, NY) Nassau County homeowners, while benefiting from one of the most prolific real estate markets in the country, frequently find themselves in having to adjust to some of the largest school property tax increases each year.

Our award-winning school districts have enriched our lives and propelled our home's markets values to record levels in recent years. Even though Nassau County is one of the most desirable places in the nation to live, it has come about at a great cost to many longtime homeowners who find themselves "house rich and cash poor."

As the 2004-05 school property tax bills are mailed this month, homeowners in two-thirds of all school districts will see increases of 10-16.95% in their school property tax obligations; 1/3 of the school districts will see increases of 4.88-10%. Depending on the district, these taxes will account for nearly two-thirds of a homeowners total property tax obligation in Nassau County.

While the Department of Assessment continues to improve the accuracy of property values each year, many homeowners will not have the financial resources to meet their escalating property tax burdens. Reassessment did not change the fact that the tax rates in the neighboring school districts are dramatically different. A home with the same assessed value in the Levittown School District, before exemptions, will pay dramatically more in school property taxes than the exact "Levit-style" home in the Island Trees School District.

For example, a $300,000 home in Island Trees School District pays $5,334 in school property taxes, while the same house in the Levittown School District pays $7,293. Like homes assessed at $350,000 in Carle Place pay $4,996 as opposed to $7,659 in Westbury; Franklin Square pays $5,550 compared to $9,255 in Hempstead; a million dollar home in Roslyn pays $16,692, while Manhasset homeowners pay $10,790.

Over the past year, I have heard the cries of thousands of taxpayers who have indicated that they can no longer pay the property taxes that are imposed by school districts along with the other hundreds of taxing jurisdictions in Nassau County. A solution must be found. All levels of government must engage in a meaningful dialogue before this crisis overwhelms us.

Historically, tax reform issues have been artfully avoided by many elected officials and special interest groups for fear of political reprisals. I believe that it is a matter of necessity that I step forward to suggest that we eliminate the school property tax - for homeowners (including owners of co-ops and condos) - and replace it with a modest income tax. This tax would be paid by both the owners of real property and renters.

By way of comparison, a typical home in Nassau County pays triple the amount of school property tax compared to an identical valued home in Douglaston, Queens. Although property tax rates in New York City are generally stable, school property tax rates in Nassau County often increase by 8 to 12 percent each year. What is often overlooked is that even at an annual 8% increase, homeowners would see their school property tax obligation double by the end of a decade.

Unaffordable homes, high property taxes, the lack of affordable rentals and starter housing have caused many of our children to move away from Long Island in record numbers. Even if young people can somehow scrape together funds for a down payment on a home in Nassau County, many do not have the financial resources to come up with the thousands of dollars needed to fund their mortgage tax escrow account. By eliminating school property taxes, this sizeable deposit will no longer be necessary and the monthly mortgage tax payments will be dramatically reduced.

As Draconian as school property taxes are for homes, school taxes paid by businesses are even harsher and vary significantly from school district to school district. For example, a gas station valued at $500,000 (based on 2004-05 school tax rates) presently would pay $28,790 in the East Meadow School District, while that same business would pay $40,665 in the Valley Stream School District 24 and $17,350 in Garden City.

I propose that a single commercial property school tax rate be created for all school districts and that the tax monies collected be redistributed to all school districts under a revenue sharing formula. Other than sheer happenstance, is there any reason that only Uniondale and, to a small degree, Garden City school districts share in the school taxes presently paid by Roosevelt Field? If nothing is done to address this inequity, the soaring school taxes paid by the owners of commercial properties will, in time, make it unlikely for many businesses to generate a profit and impede future economic development.

Clearly, we are facing an emergency.

I am, today, calling upon the Governor to appoint a non-partisan blue-ribbon commission to study my proposal and to report its findings within a year of its creation. It is my hope that other County and local elected officials will join with me in this endeavor.

The facts are undeniable: The school property tax system is broken and must be replaced in order to promote fairness and equity for all Nassau County taxpayers based on their ability to pay.

Let the debate begin!