Tells Nassau, “Don’t Stop Mailing Assessments To Homeowners”; Plan Penalizes Seniors, The Poor & Others Without Internet Access
“Keeping homeowners informed about property assessments is the foundation of a transparent, accountable and forthright property tax system,” announced Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin as he called upon Nassau County’s Acting Assessor to abandon a plan to curtail the long-standing practice of mailing residents an annual Notice of Tentative Assessed Value. Clavin, who was joined by Nassau County Legislator Laura Schaefer and a group of annoyed senior citizens at a media briefing, stated that the scheme to restrict access to property value information to the Assessment Department’s website would place senior citizens, those with limited incomes and others without Internet access at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to making important decisions based on home values. Further, Clavin says that the maneuver, which would only continue mailing tax assessment updates to those who made written requests through the U.S. Postal Service, would be a serious defeat for transparency and accountability, thereby further eroding trust and confidence in the county’s much maligned assessment system. Finally, Clavin called the timing of the effort “totally misguided” as Nassau’s Assessment Department is poised to embark on a major property tax assessment revaluation project.
“Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for Nassau County taxpayers regarding the Assessment Department’s chronically broken reassessment system, the county is planning to halt the mailing of Notices of Tentative Assessed Values to homeowners,” stated Clavin. “What’s worse, the overwhelming majority of property owners have no idea that the Assessment Department has this taxpayer-hostile initiative up its sleeve. I have written to Nassau County’s Acting Assessor and have strongly urged him to reverse the plan to curtail the mailing of important property value information to residents.
During the press briefing on the “assessed value notification” issue, Clavin recounted his experiences with local taxpayers to underscore the need for more information and better communication on the part of the Nassau County Department of Assessment. The Receiver detailed his practice at tax forums of asking property owners if they were aware of the County Assessor’s plan to stop mailing the updated annual assessment information on their homes. In response to his inquiries, Clavin indicated that virtually nobody in attendance was aware of this fact. What’s more, the overwhelming majority were not aware that they received notification. Clavin said that these facts came as no surprise to him since the information regarding the termination of mailed assessment valuation notices was “buried” in the January 2018 Tentative Assessed Value notification. In fact, the words “…the Department of Assessment will no longer produce mail Notices of Tentative Assessed Value…” were buried in a 400-word document in which residents were solely focused on information concerning their latest “tentative assessed value.”
“The Nassau Department of Assessment needs to do much more to communicate its intention to stop mailing ‘Notices of Tentative Assessed Value’ to homeowners,” stated the Receiver. “Residents are unaware of the plan, and offering more information, not less, is critical if the County Assessor hopes to restore any trust in its troubled assessment system.”
“Unfortunately, the Assessment Department did not advise the County Legislature of its plan to halt the mailing of important property value data to Nassau’s residents,” stated Schaefer. “In support of transparency and accountability, I am calling upon the County’s Acting Assessor to continue mailing this information to homeowners.”
The Receiver is also concerned over the Assessment Department’s methodology in curtailing Tentative Assessed Value mailings to homeowners. While the predominant business model and government practice with respect to “opting-out” of mailings involves customers and/or taxpayers making an affirmative request to go paperless, the County Assessor is simply cutting taxpayers off from mailed communication unless the taxpayer specifically requests to continue receiving mailed notifications in writing via U.S. Mail. Indeed, the Receiver’s new e-Billing initiative allows taxpayers to affirmatively “opt-out” of mailed notifications, selecting to receive personalized email notifications.
“Nobody else in business, government or industry merely curtails the mailing of important notices to customers,” stated Clavin. “Businesses, public utilities and governments all give the customer the courtesy of requesting that they formally take action to switch from ‘snail mail’ to email. Sadly, the county’s Assessment Department is not even replacing its U.S. Mail notification with emails.”
In fact, the obscure “mail cancellation” notification that was provided to residents in January of 2018 did not advise readers to whom their requests to continue receiving assessment value notices by mail should be addressed. It also failed to offer convenient alternatives, such as Internet or phone-based options, to request the maintenance of Notices of Tentative Assessed Value by U.S. Mail. And, residents will have to navigate an arcane website to access their Notices of Tentative Assessed Value rather than receiving an email. Clavin contends that the “user-unfriendly” steps required to continue receiving U.S. Mail assessment information, coupled with the lack of comprehensive public notification, appears to be a conscious effort to limit access to information, and he indicated that it will especially hurt senior citizens, the economically disadvantaged and others without Internet access.
“One can only conclude that this entire initiative was done purposefully in an effort to limit access to information that homeowners need and deserve,” said Clavin. “This maneuver will hit the most vulnerable the hardest—senior citizens, the poor and others without Internet access. This is a cruel and unwelcome initiative.”
Clavin said that the timing of the plan to curtail mailed Notices of Tentative Assessed Value could not be worse, considering the county’s new property tax assessment revaluation project is about to commence.
“As Nassau County embarks upon its new revaluation update, it is more important than ever to restore confidence and trust in Nassau’s assessment system,” said Clavin. “Limiting access to assessed values does just the opposite. I am calling upon Nassau’s Acting Assessor to please restore mailed Notices of Tentative Assessed Values, allowing those who choose to ‘go paperless’ the ability to expressly take steps to ‘opt-out’ of mail notification.”
“Let’s work together to enhance government transparency, openness and accountability,” concluded the Receiver. “By restoring mailed Notices of Tentative Assessed Values, alongside a comprehensive property revaluation project, we can earn the public’s trust and gain their confidence.”