Schnirman’s audit of county Assessment Department finds questionable tax shifts

Schnirman’s audit of county Assessment Department finds questionable tax shifts
Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman (Photo courtesy of the Nassau County Comptroller's Office)

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman’s audit of the Department of Assessment found that about $33 million of property taxes in 2016 was associated with questionable exemptions, possibly shifting the burden to other county homeowners.

Some 72 percent of all properties in Nassau County receive at least one property tax exemption, which removes $95 billion from the tax base that then needs to be subsidized by other taxpayers, according to the comptroller’s report.

Schnirman estimated that the resulting tax shifts cost Nassau County homeowners an average of $267 per household. 

The audit was begun in 2016 by the county’s former comptroller and was reinitiated by  Schnirman in 2018. It primarily focuses on the tax years from 2013 to 2016, and includes analysis on more recent years as it became available.

A review of veteran exemptions found that 8,400, or 18 percent, had service information that was “unrealistic, incomplete and/or inconsistent,” according to the report. Approved extensions included 91 where the homeowner was listed as 133 years or older and 20 where military service began in the future.

Auditors found that 88 percent of properties owned by clergy members, 610 in total, who were eligible for a partial clergy exemption were actually awarded a 100 percent tax exemption and therefore were not paying any property taxes.

The report raised concerns with the eight-year period when the Department of Assessment was headed by an acting assessor who was not certified.

During this time, “the former County Executive effectively controlled Assessment decisions, froze the assessment roll, preventing the Assessment Department from keeping an accurate tax roll, fixing known mistakes and updating for recent sales on an annual basis,” the audit states.

By keeping the acting assessor on for this period, former County Executive Edward Mangano was able to bypass end of term legislative review and approval. Nassau County’s charter allows assessors three-year terms of office.

The comptroller’s office found a risk of fraud in the department’s computer system, where over 100 users were able to edit each other’s work which “could impact tax shifts.” It also found that employees of the former county executive had “an inappropriate level of access” to the system.

Further findings include the Department of Assessment accepting exemption applications after the deadline, the county’s failure to include an exemption impact report to its preliminary budget, recording exemption counts that were inconsistent with the state, a disparity in senior tax exemption calculations and the failure to remove or recover exemptions that new homeowners received from the prior homeowner.

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