Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 19 February 2010 00:00
In office for just a few weeks, Nassau County’s new comptroller George Maragos reports that he has “taken charge” and is eager to make the job his own. A long-time Great Neck resident, Comptroller Maragos met recently with Anton Community Newspapers editors. Much of the interview focused on taxes and assessment.
At the start, the comptroller outlined the three issues he has put at the forefront. The biggest problem, he said, is the job of streamlining government and making it more efficient. At the top of that list is the work involving property assessments and streamlining that process too. Number two on Mr. Maragos’ list is “managing non-tax revenues.” And number three is to “fix the tax assessment system.”
Mr. Maragos said that the county does not have accurate assessments, thus more grievances are filed, and often won. He continued, saying that “there is no correlation between last year’s sales and this year’s tax assessments.” Additionally, he reported that commercial property assessments deviated over 30 percent from the prior year’s actual sales. Mr. Maragos said that some are down because of the economy, but not to the extent shown. “There are large property deviations,” he said.
Mr. Maragos said that part of the problem with tax assessments is that the tax assessor, the assessment review commission, and Nassau County attorneys are all independent “and this aggravates the problem … they are at cross-purposes.” The comptroller said that all three of these entities should be under one management structure.
Tax assessment, said Mr. Maragos, has been under the same model for six years “and it isn’t working.” And, he added, since the courts so often return money to property owners filing tax grievances, “this shows the amounts (of the tax assessments) are not accurate.”
Mr. Maragos also said that the entire grievance process takes too long and “should be contained in the same calendar year.”
Turning to the controversial issue of special districts, the comptroller said that he believes the current analysis is “incomplete … just a comparative study … with no conclusions justified.” As for the viability of special districts, Mr. Maragos said that he will study this issue and “where there is a demonstrated benefit,” he would be in support.
When the topic of the county budget arose, and the energy tax repeal was mentioned, the question was: “How to plug the hole?” Mr. Maragos’ answer goes back to his first words: “streamline government and maximize the receipt of non-tax revenues.” And he said one place to find more savings might be the county treasury department, where he believes that he has identified problems. And along these lines, the comptroller said that another money-saving task might be to have one person in charge of the technical systems in all of the county departments. At this point in time, each department has its own technological framework. The process of vendor contracts, too, he said, could be streamlined.
Stating again that there must be ways to maximize non-tax revenues, Mr. Maragos said that “We can not always look to the taxpayer.”
Questioned about county lay-offs, Mr. Maragos said that, because of current contracts, there can be no lay-offs until 2015. “I don’t believe the purpose of government is to hurt people … and you hurt people by lay-offs and raising taxes.” Thus, said Mr. Maragos, “we must be creative and efficient and go after non-tax revenues.”
Mr. Maragos is also not in favor of raising property taxes, stating that he will “work hard to find revenues and cut costs.” With that in mind, he told the editors that he had “found” 192 county cars in personal use and he will “follow up and make people accountable.”
A businessman, Mr. Maragos hopes to “bring business principles to county government … and see the benefits in a year.”
Winding up his comments, George Maragos said that “the challenges and goals are very clear to me … and I have the expertise and knowledge to attain them.”