Village Mayors Urge Residents To Grieve Property Assessments

From left: Kings Point mayor Michael Kalnick, Kensington mayor Susan Lopatkin, Thomaston mayor Steven Weinberg, Saddle Rock mayor Dan Levy and Great Neck Plaza mayor Jean Celender (Photo by Mike Adams)

Mayors from five villages on the Great Neck Peninsula held a press conference Monday evening to urge residents who feel their properties have been overvalued by Nassau County to grieve their assessments before the upcoming April 2 deadline.

The mayors of the villages of Kensington, Kings Point, Russell Gardens, Saddle Rock and Thomaston have expressed frustration with the county over what they feel has been a failure to deal with widespread property overassessments in their villages. Village of Russell Gardens Mayor David Miller was unable to attend the conference, and Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender attended to show solidarity.

“When the first reassessment came out, we immediately saw that the sales data did not compare with the assessments in multiple examples,” Village of Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg said. “We were finding that something in the range of 70 percent of the homes that changed hands were actually overassessed.”

In a letter authored by Kensington mayor Susan Lopatkin on behalf of the villages and sent to the Nassau County Legislature, the mayors said their own comparisons of assessed property values in their villages and sales prices from recent years revealed numerous examples where the county’s property assessment wound up being significantly higher than market value.

“Analysis of the villages of Kensington, Thomaston, Russell Gardens, Saddle Rock and Kings Point sales as compared to Nassau County (NC) assessed values in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 tax rolls reveals a systemic overassessment,” the letter reads. “Sales data from 2017, 2018 and 2019 for these villages were compared to the NC assessed values for 2020-21 and 2021-22. The results of the analysis found that anywhere from 75 percent to 90 percent of the new assessed values were higher than the actual sales price. In some instances, the difference was over 25 percent.”

Those numbers represent a significant departure from the countywide average error rate for the 2020-21 tax rolls, the first released under the reassessment process begun by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran after nearly a decade of frozen rolls under former executive Edward Mangano. On a county level, analysis of the reassessment found that homes were overassessed and underassessed at around the same rate, and the average difference between assessed value and sales value one way or another was 8.8 percent. For comparison, the average error level for every roll between 2013-14 and 2019-20 was more than 10 percent. But sales data collected by the Village of Thomaston, for example, found that 60 percent of the homes sold in the village in 2019 were overassessed by an average of 27 percent. From 2017-18, nearly 71 percent of Thomaston home sales went for less than their assessed value, and the overassessed homes were overassessed by about 17.3 percent on average.

Village of Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy, who said some homes in his village were assessed at two or three times their market value, expressed frustration with the county for not making changes to the process after years of meetings and lobbying from the peninsula’s mayors. He also said the county’s reassessment formula, especially its “neighborhood factor” adjustments, is insufficiently transparent.

“The bottom line is it seems to us that [the neighborhood factor] was a fictitious number to be able to manipulate the value,” Levy said. “We’re dealing with smoke and mirrors. There’s no transparency to how they did what they did.”

Lopatkin argued that the fact that only five of the peninsula’s nine villages have seen significant issues with the reassessment further proves the process has been inconsistent and poorly implemented across the board.

The mayors have been in contact with Nassau County District 10 Legislator Ellen Birnbaum to try to lobby the legislature to pass a pending bill that would phase in property tax increases over a five-year period rather than all at once, and addressed their letter to the legislator’s presiding officer, Richard Nicolello, to urge him to help pass the phase-in. The battle over the phase-in, which is currently being held up in committee in the legislature, has split along partisan lines, with Democrats advocating for its passage and Republicans advocating for holding off until further adjustments are made to the reassessment. The mayors have lobbied for both adjustments to the process and the passage of the phase-in, and said they will continue to work with both county Republicans and Democrats to meet the needs of their villagers.

Since the deadline to grieve assessments on the 2020-21 rolls was extended until April 2, the mayors urged villagers affected to grieve their assessments in the meantime while they continue to lobby for systemic changes and the phase-in.

The mayors also mentioned they have been keeping a close eye on the ongoing lawsuit Eric Berliner filed against the county that alleges the reassessment process, and the neighborhood factor adjustments in particular, has lacked transparency to the point of violating the rights of homeowners. A judge recently ruled that the suit can move to a class action that any single-family residency homeowner in the county can join.

While Weinberg noted the village governments could not join the suit themselves since they lack the standing to claim they’ve been personally affected, the have not ruled out encouraging residents in their villages to join the class action.

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