Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Newsday Editorial on Nassau GOP Gimmicks

Nassau GOP brain-fade

Freezing property assessments a bad way to address future tax increases

July 3, 2007

If it wasn't simply a cynical election-year stunt, a Republican proposal to freeze property assessments in Nassau is stupid public policy. The plan might sound good as a way to ease future tax increases, but it is far more likely to make a relatively small problem worse for a majority of the county's homeowners and its government.

Assessments are the value the county places on a home for property tax purposes. Every homeowner in a particular taxing jurisdiction has the same rate per thousands, and each tax bill varies based on how much the home is worth. So an accurate assessment is crucial to whether an owner pays his or her fair share of the burden.

But for decades, hundreds of thousands of homeowners paid too much or too little in taxes because the county refused to reassess homes to gauge how much they'd risen or fallen in value. This was a willful violation of state law that only stopped when a lawsuit forced a countywide reassessment. Now, the rolls are far more accurate.

Errors in individual assessments continue to crop up, however, and homeowners are miffed about paying some of the nation's highest taxes, accurate values or not. So they continue to file formal challenges in larger than expected numbers. They should, if they believe their assessments are inaccurate.

But freezing assessments for five years, as Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) proposed Thursday with non-incumbent challengers in tow, will only lead to a less accurate tax roll. And it will penalize owners of homes that fall in value or rise more slowly than those in neighboring communities: The laggards will be paying proportionately more than they should.

The county should do everything it can to value every home as accurately as possible. Homeowners should not hesitate to challenge assessments higher than they believe their home is worth. And the Republicans should find another issue - an intellectually honest one - in their zeal to win back control of a county that they once brought to the brink of bankruptcy.

Ironically, it was the GOP's gross mishandling of property assessments that did most to build up a sea of red ink. Its officials should know better."

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