Blakeman backs tax freeze, outlines casino requirements in State of the County

Blakeman backs tax freeze, outlines casino requirements in State of the County
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman delivers his State of the County address. (Photo courtesy of Karen Rubin/

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman backed his decision to freeze Nassau’s tax roll, discussed the necessary requirements for the Las Vegas Sands’ casino proposal and lauded other initiatives his administration conducted this year during Wednesday’s State of the County address.

Blakeman, a harsh critic of his predecessor Laura Curran’s decision to freeze the county’s tax rolls when running for election in 2021, defended his stance to do so again based on data from the office of Comptroller Elaine Phillips.

Phillips, in January, released a report of her yearlong audit of the 2020-2021 reassessment on the county’s approximately 386,000 residential and 37,000 commercial properties, saying the reassessment relied on “flawed data.”

“Because of the volatile housing market caused by nationwide inflation, rising interest rates and the phase-in negotiated by my predecessor, which does not expire for another year, I felt it would be unreasonable to burden our taxpayers with a reassessment of the whole county again,” Blakeman said during his address.

Nassau began to freeze tax rolls in 2008, a practice that was continued by former Executive Ed Mangano for eight years before Curran lifted it in 2018. During that period, thousands of residents filed grievances on the value of their homes, winning reduced assessments and shifting the tax burden onto others who did not challenge their assessments.

A Newsday report from 2019 showed some $2.7 billion in property taxes were shifted over the eight years and people who did not challenge their property taxes were assessed at a level 29.2% greater than those who did.

Philips, in her report, said the Department of Assessment was not fixing property information and data weaknesses before the reassessment.  The comptroller’s report did not dispute the overall accuracy of the program.

Nassau County Democratic Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) issued a rebuttal to Blakeman’s address, claiming that the Majority Caucus has not called a meeting of the legislature’s assessment committee, which was established in 2020.

The legislator criticized Blakeman for not taking action on lingering issues, including hundreds of homeowners still receiving erroneous tax bills.

“While I truly understand the complexity of this issue, promises must be backed with action,” DeRiggi-Whitton said in her rebuttal. “Holding a public hearing of the Assessment Committee would be an important first step.”

Blakeman also spoke more on the Sands’ proposed casino and entertainment venue at the site of the Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding 80 acres of property known as the Nassau Hub.

Sands Vice Presidents Ron Reese and David Paterson, the former New York governor, said the company’s plan includes a casino, hotel, a live performance venue, restaurants and a spa.

Sands Vice Presidents Ron Reese said the hotel will be at least 800 rooms, the live performance venue will have a 5,000-7,500 seat capacity and there will be roughly 400,000 square feet of “corporate meeting facilities” to go along with other amenities.

Other details, such as the fate of the longstanding Nassau Coliseum, have yet to be decided on.

Blakeman went more in-depth on what would warrant approval for the Sands’ proposal.

“It must be world-class with a luxury hotel and entertainment component…it must bring significant revenue to the county and surrounding areas, including construction and permanent jobs… and it must have the support of the community,” Blakeman said. “We will continue to explore this possibility and we’ll keep county residents informed throughout the process.”

Patterson told Blank Slate Media last month the company has a self-imposed April 1 deadline to have the application completed and be ready to go before the state.

Incentivizing Nassau residents and outsiders to patronize local businesses, Blakeman said, is something his administration wants to do more of this year.

“To keep costs low, especially for our seniors, veterans and young people, my administration is focused on expanding the tax base, driving local economic activity and bring some and bringing some of the biggest and most prestigious companies in the world,” he said.

Blakeman also lauded the work of the Nassau County Police Department for working to combat the increased catalytic converter thefts this year. Blakeman said police have seized thousands of catalytic converters, stolen for their precious metals, and $7 million from an organized crime ring.

The county executive also said he was pleased to agree on a new contract with Nassau’s Police Benevolent Association last month.

The $170 million agreement will run retroactively from Jan. 1, 2018 until July 1, 2026 and increase the top base pay for officers from $122,000 to $141,000. The agreement will also increase the starting pay for new officers from $35,000 to $37,333.

“I was proud to work with PBA President Tommy Shevlin to approve a new contract for the PBA that adequately that adequately compensates police officers for their service while protecting taxpayers’ wallets,” Blakeman said.

The contract also increases pay by 15% during the duration and includes nearly $6,500 in stipends for officers with six years of service and $3,750 stipends for those with 15 years of service, according to legislative documents. It was approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority two weeks ago.

Both Blakeman and DeRiggi-Whitton expressed their concerns about drug epidemics, mainly fentanyl, though the two presented different ways to combat it in Nassau County.

Blakeman urged federal officials to crack down on the United States border patrol, noting that the approved county budget includes $15 million to address the local issue per year over the next four years.

“I have met with far too many parents who have lost loved ones to the disease of addiction,” Blakeman said. “It has to stop and that starts with securing our border while we work.”

DeRiggi-Whitton implored Blakeman to provide the necessary financial aid to families and other organizations to mitigate the number of deaths caused by drugs and opioids each year.

“Two recommendations are one, more long-term care options beyond standard 28-day programs traditionally offered by treatment centers; and two, better access to mental health care counseling,” the legislator said.

DeRiggi-Whitton also urged Blakeman to address other issues the minority caucus views as important, such as banning the littering of cannabis, forming a public committee to figure out the spending of Nassau’s $300 million in American Rescue Plan aid and developing an in-house team of cybersecurity experts.

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