Big fees to private tax firms

Changes to Nassau County’s flawed property tax assessment system pushed by politically connected taxpayer grievance firms have helped those companies win more challenges and increase their collected fees by millions of dollars, a Newsday computer analysis found.

The seven largest firms handled 72 percent of the nearly 137,000 residential property tax challenges filed for the 2015 tax year and they have seen their success rate skyrocket under the Residential Tax Grievance Negotiation and Settlement Program, which Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano implemented in 2010. Only 42 percent of all tax grievances were settled for 2009, but the figure spiked to 84 percent by 2013, according to county records. The seven largest firms, who collect from residents up to half of any first-year tax reduction as their fee, settled roughly 88 percent of their cases for 2015.

Those top firms — who each settled at least 1,000 cases for 2015 — have rewarded Mangano since his first run for county executive in 2009 by donating at least $1.2 million to his campaigns, to a political action committee they formed and to other Nassau County Republican candidates and committees, campaign finance records show.

To be sure, Mangano’s new program settles a far greater share of tax challenges and replaces a system criticized for waste and overtaxing. But Newsday’s analysis points to an ongoing flaw: Nassau County operates a property tax system in which a homeowner’s best chance to keep money the county erroneously tried to collect is to hire a private firm that worked with Mangano to create this system.

Click here to read the rest of the Newsday story.