By Debra MuléNassau County Legislator
After reading Newsday’s recent analysis of donations by a political action committee funded by tax grievance firms, (“Tax-challenge firms donate $256,725 to Nassau GOP candidates, committees”, Aug. 13, 2022; “Nassau tax firms donate to county politicians and taxpayers lose”, August 21, 2022) it makes sense why Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has done little to address the purported assessment issues he endlessly campaigned on while running for office.
Newsday’s reporting shows how the County Executive and the Nassau County Republican Party benefit from a broken assessment system in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from tax grievance firms. So far, all County Executive Blakeman has done is punt the assessment issue to Comptroller Elaine Phillips - another office holder whose political fortunes were similarly buoyed by the largesse of the grievance firms.
Amidst this inaction, the tax grievance firms have and will continue to make tens of millions of dollars in profits from homeowners who pay as much as half of their purported tax savings for an hour’s worth of work. Donations from tax grievance firms to the County Executive and the Nassau County Republican Party help to sustain this vicious cycle - one that both shortchanges homeowners and undermines efforts to restore fairness to Nassau’s tax assessment system.
The County Executive and other Republican leaders should have the courage to reject political donations from the tax certiorari firms that exploit the broken system and mass settlement programs that provide little to no relief for our taxpayers. The County Executive should invest in a full reassessment to review every single parcel in Nassau County and then bolster the Nassau County Department of Assessment to actually defend the County’s assessments instead of relenting to political donors and allies.
Maybe the County’s executive leaders can aim even higher by converting the County into a two-class system, providing assessments that represent true market values, and repealing the incredibly confusing “6/20” rule, which only benefits high-value properties and does not actually keep tax increases from exceeding 6 percent per year or 20 percent over five years. Why not require utilities to submit yearly annual income and expense and inventory statements to make sure that residents are not unfairly carrying the tax load? Even more simply, the County can engage with an assessment database contractor whose program does not produce taxable value errors and perform a substantial Request for Proposal process that provides the County with a variety of strong, competent vendors capable of producing accurate assessment data.
Instead, the County Executive has relied on a tried-and-true political tactic - pass the buck elsewhere under the guise of a wasteful, lengthy audit of County assessments that have already been reviewed by touted independent assessment and appraisal experts. The valuations were not and still are not the problem - the assessment system itself is. Nassau County needs a leader who is interested in addressing the foundational issues that afflict the system, rather than just the façade. With a propensity to help and promote highly connected and wealthy friends, we are not sure that this County Executive is willing to resist political allies to reform the assessment system for county taxpayers.
At a moment that calls for less politicking and more political courage, that is a shame. It is time to confront the core issues that plague the County’s assessment system, and the first step toward achieving that outcome is for the County Executive to be transparent about his intentions and to explain how he plans on achieving his campaign promises.
Debra Mulé, of Freeport, was first elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 2017. She represents the 5th Legislative District in the Nassau County Legislature.