Editorial: County GOP’s zombie idea marches on – The Island Now

Joe Biden has been sworn in as president, Donald Trump has been impeached for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol intended to overturn the presidential election, the coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of 400,000 Americans and is still raging, and Nassau County is once again relying on a state bailout to balance its budget.

So one might think this is a strange time for Nassau County Republican legislators to again propose a referendum intended to make the county assessor an elected position.

In fairness, we did criticize GOP legislators for using the COVID-19 pandemic to reject a proposal by Democratic legislators to create a redistricting commission to determine legislative boundaries after the completion of the 2020 census.

But at least we had good reason ensuring Nassau voters were treated fairly in county elections, an objective that has taken on special meaning following the presidential election.

That is more than we can say of the GOP legislators.

Their call for an elected assessor appears nothing more than a bad-faith effort to turn back the clock to the administration of Republican Ed Mangano when no assessment was done for eight years.

During that time, according to a Newsday report, $2.7 billion in property taxes was shifted from people who challenged their property taxes to those who didnt, generally people who were younger, poorer and members of communities of color.

Republicans, who were in control of the Legislature during Manganos eight years, had no complaints during that time about properties not being reassessed. Or that the department was not run by a certified assessor. Or that the departments staff was hollowed out.

They just encouraged property owners to challenge their assessments, which was an odd strategy since the routinely successful challenges cost the financially strapped county millions of dollars a year.

The de facto reassessment moratorium ended when Laura Curran, a Democrat, was elected county executive in the wake of Manganos conviction for political corruption. And she appointed David Moog, a certified assessor, to reassess all properties in Nassau County.

The rollout of the countys assessment system was marked by several miscues but when completed was found to meet every professional standard of accuracy and fairness.

But Republicans were not satisfied during the reassessment process or after, repeatedly challenging the accuracy of the reassessment and Moog.

This included a proposal to require the county assessor to be a resident of Nassau County, a requirement that does not apply to any other department head. Spoiler alert: Moog lives in Queens.

The GOP also proposed, OK wait for it, a referendum to make the county assessor an elected position. It is probably no coincidence that the Republican legislators held their news conference three days after a federal grand jury charged Mangano with bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Electing a county assessor is a bad idea that Nassau County has already tried. It failed and in 2008 voters gave the county executive the responsibility to appoint the position in a referendum.

Nassau County does not need to politicize the assessment any more than it already has and an elected assessor is the clearest path to infusing every assessment with the taint of politics. What next, elected IRS commissioners?

The GOPs most recent call for an elected assessor was made following the announcement that Moog was stepping down and would take another county position due to health reasons.

Curran immediately announced Moog would be replaced by Robin Laveman, chairperson of the countys Assessment Review Commission.

Curran touted her pick, saying Laverman was extremely qualified to take on the new role, having overhauled the Assessment Review Commissions outdated operations and streamlining processes and procedures.

But as she has in the past Curran appeared to hurt her own otherwise good case.

As Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello helpfully pointed out, Laverman is not a certified assessor, a qualification Curran said was important in the past.

Yes, Nicolellos argument is chutzpah on an epic scale given his constant criticism of Moog and his silence during the Mangano administration. And according to the county charter, the assessor has 36 months after being appointed to become certified.

But Nicolello is correct.

Then there is Lavermans record.

According to Newsday, Laverman won at least five reassessment challenges on her home in Oyster Bay Cove, which reportedly cut her assessment by 24 percent and saved thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Its true that about two-thirds of the property owners in Nassau have challenged their taxes in the past 10 years. But the optics are not great.

On the other hand, this does seem to argue against the Republicans demand that the county assessor live in Nassau County. If anything, this seems to argue that the county assessor not live in Nassau County.

In the past, Curran has also adopted the Republican position that reassessment changes should be phased in over five years. This means that people who have been overpaying their taxes will continue to overpay during that period, just a declining amount.

And property owners who have underpaid their taxes generally older and more affluent will continue to underpay the taxes.

This is known as comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

Curran also borrowed another Republican tactic, arguing that GOP legislators should not play politics at a time when Curran is focused on distributing vaccines to protect residents and bring our businesses back.

As a result, we hereby call for a moratorium on Nassau elected officials citing external events in rejecting their opponents proposals no matter how bad they are.

Curran and other county Democrats are correct in rejecting the Republicans zombie idea of a referendum to pick a county assessor.

There is an easier, better answer to addressing concerns about assessment the election of the county executive and the County Legislature.

For this, we join Democratic legislators in calling for a referendum to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The commission would determine the boundaries of the 19 legislative districts after receiving the results of the 2020 census.

The GOP used a 10-9 majority after the last census to create 12 districts in which Republicans held an advantage in registered voters to the Democrats seven in a county where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans.

This tactic, known as gerrymandering, is an important factor in political polarization across the county.

In Nassau, we might find that gerrymandering is a reason property owners who tended to be young, poor and members of communities of color have been overpaying their taxes for the past 10 years.

Editorial: County GOP's zombie idea marches on - The Island Now

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