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New Nassau County Assessor Discusses Property Assessment

On Thursday, July 16 the Sands Point Civic Association hosted a community meeting and invited Legislator Wayne Wink and recently appointed County Assessor Thaddeus J. Jankowski, Jr. to address local residents on the topic of property assessment. The meeting was chaired by Jean-Marie Posner, the vice-president of the association, who commented on the overflow crowd, welcomed and introduced the two speakers.

Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink began the meeting with comments on his quest to have the title of Nassau County assessor rest in the hands of a qualified professional instead of an elected official. He said that it was his experience that the single most vexing complaint heard in Nassau County was that of unfair assessments. Through Wink’s efforts, a referendum was recently adopted to change the county’s policy of electing a county assessor to allow the position to be filled in the future by professional real estate assessors. Wink said he took this action based upon the fact that none of the previously elected assessors had a professional background in assessment administration. He then offered a synopsis of the newly appointed Nassau County Assessor Thaddeus J. Jankowski, Jr., who assumed office at the beginning of this year. Jankowski brought to the position over 30 years of general assessment experience at leading his post as the leading assessor in the city of Boston for the past eight years.

Mr. Jankowski began his presentation by saying that Nassau County had the second heaviest assessment caseload in New York State exceeded only by New York City. He summarized his first objective as an attempt to discern those policies that work and those that don’t. He grimly viewed the task confronting him as difficult and saw no easy fix to the many complex problems. He artfully spoke of the following problems supported by some easy to understand visual aids:

• The number of challenges to assessed valuations in Nassau County, where approximately 30 percent of all assessments are contested at a cost to his office of $5.6 million. He described the volume of these appeals as coming close to overwhelming the basic assessment work of the office.

• As a general rule, the industry standard for property assessment should be within 15 percent of the sales price. He pointed out a statistical chart, which showed that Nassau was not only well below the guideline of this 15 percent rule but also actually was under 10 percent.

• The fact that the appeals process was so ingrained in Nassau that a whole industry was built around it often including cooperation by elected officials. Information on this industry is available through the Internet.

• The concept of fractional value. He labeled fractional value as being specifically designed to overcome the 6 percent cap on increases tacked on assessments in succeeding years and supported the idea of going to a full market value.

• Lag time. It was confusing to some homeowners that the lag time between the January evaluations are not reflected in school bills for about 18 months.

Jankowski then spoke of reorganization of the Office of Assessment and some initiative he’s taken in his first few months on the job:

• Workers are being assigned to work in cells with a team leader; they will be monitored and given fixed responsibilities.

• Handheld input devices are being explored.

• Educational programs with residents from local communities throughout Nassau will provide an opportunity to review on a face-to-face basis certain exemptions such as the Star program, programs for the elderly, volunteer firefighters and similar groups. One of the first of these educational programs will be held in the Port Washington library on Wednesday, Aug. 26, from 2 to 4 p.m.

• The Star program, which can reduce taxes anywhere from $690-$1,500, will be supplemented by sending an application form directly to new homeowners.

• In the planning stage at present is the telephone control system, whereby residents will be able to make an appointment for telephone consultation with a trained professional to discuss their assessment.

He clearly discussed in easy-to-understand terms, the role of assessment and its relationship to taxes in Nassau County and said the Nassau County community should view assessment as the foundation of all government services. It is easy for the public to fault assessment increases as being responsible for tax increases. The increase actually originates with increased spending by the county. Individual property owners are responsible for paying a certain portion of the total county’s obligations. Should those obligations increase, each property owner must apply their tax rate to the larger budget and will mean an increase in taxes even though their assessment remains the same.

Another misunderstanding is the phenomenon of the reduction of assessments not matched with a reduction in real estate taxes. As a result of the current recession, many assessments have been reduced as home values in the county have been reduced. If individual assessments are reduced by the same percentage as the overall valuation of property in Nassau County, the property owner’s percentage of the county tax obligation remains unchanged. Therefore it is faulty to assume that the reduction in assessment will reduce the tax obligation.

In a question-and-answer session that followed his presentation Jankowski deftly and cheerfully handled difficult questions. He admitted that it’s harder to assess more expensive homes found in affluent communities such as Sands Point. One questioner quoted an article which recently appeared in Newsday stating that over $50 million was spent in recent years in the county’s assessor’s office, which did not include such training essentials as manuals and integrated computer systems. Jankowski replied that the article was only partially correct and that the prior budget allocations bought an entire system, which left certain training needs unfulfilled.

Jankowski also felt that resources were not allocated fairly between commercial and residential property owners.

In his final remarks, Jankowski said that properties are normally assessed by reviewing a host of available data including the school district sales price, physical characteristics on employment statistics, etc. At the conclusion of the meeting, which was well received by the residents, Jankowski remained to discuss privately some of the individual concerns raised by the audience.