Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos called on county and state lawmakers Friday to renew a property tax break for some senior citizens that expired at the end of last year.
Maragos, a Democrat running for county executive, joined state Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) — also a candidate for the county’s top post — in asking for action by the county.
The tax break, approved by the state Legislature in 2002 for Nassau seniors age 65 and older with household incomes below a certain threshold — $86,000 this year — cost about 35,000 seniors a 5.5-percent discount on the county portion of their property taxes this year, Maragos said in a statement.
Lavine plans to introduce legislation renewing the tax break in the Assembly with Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), he said Thursday.
“I urge the county Legislature to convene an emergency session and pass the required Home Rule Ordinance requesting the state government to renew the senior tax abatement retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017 so that there be no loss of benefit to our seniors,” Maragos said.
The tax break’s end on Dec. 31 drove up many seniors’ tax bills by more than $200, Tara Butler, Lavine’s chief of staff, said Thursday. She cited several angry phone calls to Lavine’s office from concerned seniors who recently received higher tax bills.
The 2002 law gave eligible seniors a discount up to the increase in the county tax rate for each fiscal year, according to a memo supporting the bill.
Mangano, a Republican, made no effort to get it renewed and did not warn seniors it was expiring, Lavine charged in a letter he sent to Mangano on Thursday.
“I cannot comprehend how your administration permitted state legislation that was vital to senior citizens with moderate income to sunset at the end of 2016,” Lavine, who is running to replace Mangano as county executive, wrote.
Lavine’s letter kicked off a sparring match with Mangano in which the lawmakers blamed each other for letting the tax break fall through the cracks.
In a response, Mangano slammed Lavine’s letter as “reactionary and impulsive,” saying it was former Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi’s 20-percent property tax hike that required the discount in the first place.
Lavine’s and other state lawmakers’ inaction, not the county’s, ran out the clock on a tax break he thinks is no longer necessary, he wrote.
“My administration and the Republican majority [in] the county Legislature froze county property taxes for 6 years,” Mangano wrote. “We also eliminated the county home energy tax on residents’ oil, natural gas, propane and electricity bills. Accordingly, there is no abatement needed for our residents.”
Brian Nevin, a Mangano spokesman, said the state is responsible for notifying taxpayers when exemptions change.
Lavine, in another letter rebutting Mangano, countered that the state Legislature needs a “home rule message” giving its approval to renew the discount and could not have passed the law on its own.
But Mangano responded Friday that state legislators must introduce a bill before the county Legislature can approve a home rule message approving it.
Mangano and Lavine traded the barbs over several hours in their official capacities, emailing the letters on government letterhead and posting them to Twitter.
But politics heavily colored the exchange as Democrats begin in earnest their campaigns to replace Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges stemming from an alleged bribe and kickback scheme with restaurateur Harendra Singh.
The two-term incumbent has not said whether he will seek a third, but Republican sources told Newsday this week that his campaign for one would be unlikely to get the GOP’s blessing.
County Legislator Laura Curran of Baldwin is also running for his post. Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman is considering a run.