New York State Senator Kevin Thomas (D – Levittown) and members of the Nassau County Legislature’s Minority Caucus gathered at the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building on Thursday, Sept. 28 to propose and advocate for state legislation that would curb the deceptive and predatory practices of tax challenge firms.
The legislation proposed by Senator Thomas, who chairs the Senate’s Consumer Protection committee, would require firms to inform clients that they do not need to hire a tax certiorari firm to grieve their assessment, and caps the fees that tax challenge firms can charge property owners for a successful grievance. The elected officials argued that these measures are necessary to disrupt the pay-to-play scheme wherein tax challenge firms donate to favored County political candidates to ensure the assessment process results in high levels of grievance settlements that deliver maximum profits for minimal work.
Back in August 2022, Sen. Thomas told Newsday, “I feel like this is like a pay for play situation where [tax challenge firms] feed all the politicians. This way their industry doesn’t get impacted. It’s a bad way of doing things.” They donated more than a quarter million dollars to Nassau Republicans that year.
Since then, these tax challenge firms have continued to make donations through a variety of political organizations. One such organization, the NVS Victory Fund, donated $335,350 to Nassau Republicans over the past year. Another, the Committee for Fair Property Taxes, donated $164,425 to Nassau Republicans over the past year.
Republican County Executive Bruce Blakeman promised to fix the County’s broken assessment system during his successful 2021 campaign. Since his election, he has not ordered a reassessment. The Committee for Fair Property Taxes donated to both him and Republican Comptroller Elaine Phillips during their campaigns.
“Since taking office, the Blakeman administration has allowed Nassau County’s assessment system to slide backwards into dysfunction, and our taxpayers are the ones who suffer because of that,” Nassau County Legislator Arnold W. Drucker (D – Plainview) said. “It is no secret that tax certiorari firms contribute heavily to elected officials who are complicit in keeping the assessment system broken to benefit their bottom line, and I applaud Senator Thomas for joining us in standing up for Nassau taxpayers and fighting back against such deceptive practices.”
When there are high levels of successful grievances, it’s not just that tax challenge firms profit— more settlements mean more tax burden is shifted onto those who don’t grieve.
“Tax grievance firms have been able to turn the systemic imbalances, disparities and errors within Nassau County’s assessment system to their financial advantage for far too long – and the greatest burden of this inequitable system often falls upon the residents of Nassau County’s majority-minority communities,” Nassau County Legislator Siela A. Bynoe (D – Westbury) said. “I believe Senator Thomas’ bill will help to rein in the activities of these firms and remove some of the hurdles that are currently preventing long-term reforms to our assessment system from gaining traction.”
The goal of the legislation is to dismantle this unfair system and rein in predatory tax challenge firms.
First, the legislation empowers property owners. By requiring tax challenge firms to inform their clients that legal assistance is not necessary when filing a grievance, more property owners will grieve, therefore reducing disparities in who grieves.
Additionally, the cap on fees for grievance settlements will reduce the profits for tax challenge firms, therefore tempering their preference for high grievance levels and weakening their political influence.
— Submitted by the Office of the Nassau County Legislature Minority