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Garden City School Board Addresses Commonsense Act of 2010, NC’s $1.3 Million Property Tax Blunder

As news of Nassau County’s tax woes continues to make headlines, Garden City School District found itself caught in the crosshairs of more controversy. At last week’s board of education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen addressed the county’s proposed legislation to end the ‘county guarantee,’ where the county pays for its assessment mistakes. The board also discussed the county’s recent admission that it mistakingly taxed its own building generating a staggering bill of $1,277,502 for the Garden City School District.

Dr. Feirsen said the legislation, entitled the Commonsense Act of 2010, would have a potentially adverse effect on Garden City and all Nassau County school districts. Dr. Feirsen, along with Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Albert Chase and School Board Trustees Angela Heineman and Laura Hastings, attended a public hearing to discuss the tax cost shift plan before it is officially voted on by the Nassau County Legislature on Oct. 29.

“To me this act is anything but commonsense,” Feirsen said, adding “I was generally surprised at the lack of understanding of the entire assessment, taxation process by those who represent us. They didn’t have a full grasp of the subject. And you know I see this as a very, very dangerous initiative on the part of the county.”

Feirsen compared the county’s proposal to a Three Stooges or Abbott and Costello skit, where one person continues to slap another until you go down the line and there is no one left to slap. “Well that’s us. We can’t keep receiving expenses that are continuously pushed off on us and we have nowhere to go. We’re the last stop. This is another attempt, in my view, by the county to offload expenses to school districts and thereby, increase our responsibilities without doing anything to benefit the taxpayer,” Feirsen said.

Adding to the discussion, Feirsen said he learned that day that the county building located at 1550 Franklin Avenue had appeared in error on the school tax rolls resulting in a $1.3 million tax bill for the Garden City School District. County property is tax-exempt and the miscalculation would have severely impacted the district’s budget. “So we’re asked to have faith in an assessment system that will be ironed out, and (the county) assesses its own property, which is illegal, and puts it on the tax rolls after our tax rates are set, and then turns around and someone else finds, ‘hey, guys, you actually assessed your own property,’” Feirsen said.

As of press time, Nassau County officials had not formally contacted the district as to whether it would incur the costs of the tax blunder, according to Feirsen. “If this turns out to be true that they have assessed their own property, added to the tax roll inaccurately and inappropriately, and now since our tax rates are set and we can’t just change that … now there is a question where is that money going to come from. Now they’re obligated to pay the difference, which is about 1.3 million,” he said at the board meeting.

Feirsen added that the issue would be researched and referred to counsel, but the initial response from the county is ‘we’ll have to look into that.’

School Board President Colleen Foley stated her position on the news. “This is absolutely outrageous what is being planned here,” Foley said.

Foley encouraged the public to reach out to their local representatives before the Nov. 2 election. Feirsen concurred that residents need to stay informed on the topic. “We can’t afford to wait and I think this is an issue of great significance for every school district in Nassau County,” he said.