Editorial: Does Nassau really want more businesses?

Editorial: Does Nassau really want more businesses?

The good news is that the unemployment rate in Nassau County fell to a very low 3.2 percent in March. The bad news is that many Nassau County businesses are struggling to fill job openings.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman stressed the importance of bringing new businesses to Nassau to help make the county affordable for current and future residents during his State of the County address.

“In order to keep residential properties in check, we must increase our tax base by recruiting new businesses to Nassau County to provide jobs and establish prosperity for all communities,” Blakeman said.

We agree with Blakeman on the need for new business. The question is how to attract the businesses and people to work here.

Nassau certainly has many appealing aspects especially for high earners who can afford homes here. Good schools, nice homes, and close access to New York City make the county an attractive place to live for business owners.

The county has also made Nassau more attractive to prospective and expanding businesses with tax breaks.

Douglas W. Atkins, a partner at Forchelli Deegan Terrana LLP law firm in Uniondale, offers another way to make Nassau more attractive to business owners – cutting taxes.

Atkins recently pointed out in an article that appeared in Blank Slate Media that unlike most municipalities Nassau County taxes commercial real estate at a higher rate than residential – as much as three times higher.

The tax rate varies significantly, Atkins notes, based on location, namely school district. But most of the county’s 30,000 commercial properties pay taxes of 4 to 9 percent of value, and while the 370,000 residential properties pay 2.5 to 4 percent of value.

Atkins called this “business hostility,” noting that in nine of the 13 towns on Long Island, businesses are taxed at the same level as homes in nine of them. Businesses are taxed at a higher rate in the other four.

An obvious way for Nassau County to attract new business and retain existing ones would be to tax commercial properties at the same rate as residential properties.

Blakeman has already asked County Comptroller Elaine Philips to review the county assessment system, but businesses probably should not start to spend their savings now – or anytime in the future.

Blakeman’s request for a review was aimed at aiding residential property owners – not businesses – coming after he campaigned for county executive by attacking the high cost of property taxes to residents under Laura Curran and discrepancies in rates between similar homes. Even though the county portion of property taxes represents a small share of residents’ tax burden.

Curran had, as promised, overseen the first reassessment of all forms of Nassau property in eight years.

A study by Newsday found that during this time $2.2 billion in taxes were shifted away from wealthier – and older and whiter – property owners who challenged their assessments to generally less affluent, less white and younger property owners who didn’t challenge their assessments

The analysis of the rates after the reassessment found “that the new assessments are well within every major professional standard of accuracy and fairness.”

But Republicans still objected. So we now await the results of Phillips’ review.

We would hope to see Phillips recommend that all property is reassessed yearly so that people would actually pay what they owe. And that commercial property is assessed at the same rate as residential.

But we are not going to hold our breath. A lower assessment on businesses would mean a higher assessment on homes.

So how does Nassau attract new businesses and people to work here given the county’s high taxes, high housing costs, low housing inventory and low unemployment?

Suffolk County would not seem to be a better place to find new employees with a 3.5 percent unemployment rate in March. But New York City has a high unemployment rate with nearby Queens at 5.8 percent, Brooklyn at 6.3 percent and the Bronx at 8.6 percent.

The downside to attracting New York City residents is the increasing number of people who do not want to commute to work, more opportunities for them to work remotely and the increased highway traffic brought by those who do want to work here.

Long and costly commutes could be eliminated by expanding the amount of housing in the county, affordable or otherwise.

The power to increase housing rests entirely in the hands of local towns and villages, which control local zoning laws. But getting local governments to change zoning to allow more housing has no better chance than assessing business properties the same as residential.

Free-standing single homes account for more than 75 of Nassau’s housing stock – the third highest rate among the most populous counties in the United States. Suffolk is second at 81 percent. By contrast, Westchester is at 44 percent.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in February a $25 billion, five-year housing plan intended to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes in critically short New York, increase construction of new homes and tackle inequities in the housing market.

Hochul’s plan included proposed legislation to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit on all owner-occupied residential zoned lots.

She quickly withdrew the plan in the face of opposition by county Republicans and Democrats like Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is challenging her for his party’s nomination for governor.

The critics said Hochul’s plan would end single-family housing in New York and destroy Nassau as a suburban oasis.

“Gov. Hochul has declared war on the suburbs, the environment, local infrastructure, our schools, accessible parking and manageable traffic, among all of the other benefits that go along with the suburban quality of life that we enjoy on Long Island,” Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said in a fairly representative comment.

In presenting this apocryphal vision, the critics seemed to lend support to Hochul’s contention that there is a large shortage of housing in New York.

But the critics believed that housing should be provided somewhere else – even for people working in Nassau.

Even smaller, mixed-used developments that include retail and housing are routinely met in many Nassau communities with similar opposition.

According to opponents of Hochul’s plan, Nassau County – or at least the part of it in which they reside has as many residents as it can hold.

Nassau County residents and businesses routinely complain about the county’s high property taxes.

But they also routinely vote for school budgets supported by property taxes that represent two-thirds of their bill. And they oppose the housing that would help the county attract the businesses needed to make local taxes affordable.

We wish Blakeman good luck in squaring that circle.

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  1. “An obvious way for Nassau County to attract new business and retain existing ones would be to tax commercial properties at the same rate as residential properties.”

    If that were to happen, residential and utility owned properties would have to make up the shortfall. That would be painful. The funds have to come from somewhere.

    There are two practical steps that can be taken to attack the main problem: school taxes.

    1) Eliminate the contribution to the teacher’s pension fund, NYSTRS, made by residents. Teachers, and particularly Superintendents, are more than well compensated to handle funding on their own like mere mortals.

    2) School employees must bear the cost of their health insurance more in line with that of ordinary salaried employees. In some districts, 80% of employee health insurance costs are covered by property taxes. Given the largesse of this structure, a phased reduction over three to four years would be necessary. But it’s a huge number, considering how health insurance costs have far outpaced every other aspect of living expenses. It’s past the time to redress the balance, and normalize the benefits structure.

    One of the largest, if not THE largest line items in your school budget is benefits. Which is why going through the motions of voting on a school budget has always been an elaborate farce. You vote to approve of nothing.

    I will continue to watch with amusement as Ms. Philip’s ongoing pantomime continues. The County is always good for a few yuks.

  2. i think its a ridiculous question, low unemployment statistics fluctuates, new businesses are an
    insurance for the future available jobs.
    as for housing, i would encourage multi-family buildings in the downtown districts,
    near train stations, this new housing would provide an opportunity to empty nesters to remain in the villages they live in and down size


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