Local officials are breathing a sigh of relief over the reversal of the repeal of the county guarantee, which would have shifted the burden to refund erroneously collected taxes from Nassau County onto the school districts and towns.
On Wednesday, a state appeals court declared that Nassau’s attempt at repealing its county guarantee was unconstitutional.
That’s good news for local municipalities and school districts alike, officials say.
“The plan that was defeated would have had the towns and schools pay for the county’s assessment mistakes,” said Jon Kaiman, supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead.
“The town neither sets the assessment or plays any role in the assessment challenge process, which is controlled completely by the county,” Kaiman added. “To have us pay for the mistakes would cost us millions upon millions of dollars each year without allowing us any input or participation in the process from beginning to end.”
Nassau offers a guarantee and sits at the heart of the county’s financial debate as it has had to heavily borrow in order to pay for past refunds. Back in 2010, the county, while looking for solutions to its budgetary woes, sought to repeal the guarantee.
But the Town of North Hempstead, along with 41 school districts, sued, claiming that the measure violated the state constitution and home rule laws that limit the county’s ability to enact laws dealing with taxation, which are inconsistent with state law.
“The unanimous decision by [the] appellate division is welcome news to the students of Port Washington,” said Port Washington School Board Member Larry Greenstein, who also serves on the executive committee of the Nassau-Suffolk School Board Association.
“The school districts will not have to pay for the county's inability to process certiorari claims on a timely basis,” Greenstein added. “The county is charged with assessing properties and school districts use tax information in good faith to set a tax levy. I am pleased that the justices are not penalizing us for their failure to properly assess property values and settle claims in a timely matter.”
"The County Guarantee would have placed another unfair financial burden on the District that would have resulted in even further cuts to educational programming for our students," said Dr. Kathleen Mooney, Superintendent of Port Washington Public Schools. "If the appeal had been lost, a new reserve of at least two million dollars would need to be established. That would detrimental to our educational system."
“A loss in this case could cost districts millions of dollars, which would [hurt] our ability to continue to provide the same level of educational services that we do currently,” Greenstein noted. “Since our ability to generate revenue is capped, any payments would come directly from needed expenditures.”
Leg. Wayne Wink, D-Roslyn, hoped that the ruling would prompt change to the county's assessment system.
"We need to provide real, meaningful reform to our broken assessmenet system instead of continuing to kick the can down the road," he said. "The costs of the county's onw errors should not be pawned off on schools, towns and fire districts."
Still, Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli said Wednesday that the county would make an appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals.
“We’re going to fight this all the way,” he said.