Garden City developer Vincent Polimeni has arrived at an innovative solution to the logjam of property tax certiorari cases confronting Nassau County ('Tackling Nassau's tax refund crisis,' LIBN, Jan. 25). Unfortunately, minefields remain hidden throughout the legal and governmental landscape that would trap those who seek to implement it.
Polimeni suggests that two appraisers be hired to debate the merits of a property owner's demand for lower tax assessment. One appraiser would represent the county and the second would be the property owner's champion. If they fail to agree on the property value, they would submit their findings to a third appraiser who would dictate the decision. The concept is designed to short circuit the nation's favorite straw man, the attorney, and fast track the property owner's tax certiorari pay day.
But there are simply not enough qualified appraisers to do tax certiorari work. That's no surprise, given that with the myriad tax rates and equalization rates and village and county filing deadlines the process is profoundly different than simply deciding on the value of the property. And what will the criteria be for those appraisers who claim to be competent to perform the job? How can the consumer establish that the appraiser is truly an advocate for the client's position? (Property owners will also discover that most appraisers want their fee before they offer an opinion.)
A major part of the current backlog problem in Mineola is that current county appraisers can't get through the cases already sitting on their desk. If the new Suozzi Administration could hire additional competent appraisers to fill the breach, they would do so. Given this reality, the idea that the rest of us would have access to dual teams of appraisers to judge our application is a fond but unobtainable wish.
Couple that shortage with the political decision to dismiss the team of appointees at the Assessment Review Board who were dealing with Nassau's tax assessment requests and the waiting line for action just gets a lot longer. An ancillary approach would be to beef up the Assessor's Office with additional appraisers to deal with complaints and at the least deal with current mistakes and errors that now clog the system.
But there are other problems with the proposal. Under this appraiser review plan the tax refund will not be paid in cash but will only be in effect as reduced tax bills going forward. In other words, if you have engaged a tax appraiser to decide your tax assessment plea and he hands down the decision on your request, you will only benefit if you hold on to your property. (Studies show that residential property owners will flip their holdings on the average of every seven years. Commercial property owners may do it even faster.) Trying to sell your property for its real estate value plus the tax benefits over the ensuing 10 years is untested waters, which will make properties very expensive and may cause havoc with getting a mortgage.
Property owners may also get a little queasy putting the economic fate of their business into the hands of a third party appraiser when the first two appraisers have almost assuredly disagreed. These are uncharted legal waters, and that is why land holders who take their property seriously choose an attorney to represent them in arbitration with the back-up of a qualified appraiser.
Nobody I know buys or sells property wholly on an appraisal without negotiating the final price. Love 'em or hate 'em, the attorney acts as the most effective and trusted liaison between the appraiser and the property owner, not only advocating on behalf of the client and explaining legal options but also finding the most effective and ingenious way of addressing these problems.
Polimeni has earned a reputation as a smart, insightful business leader who is always looking for solutions. His proposal to use appraisers only is an intriguing idea, but the grim reality of the real estate tax reduction landscape suggests that an easy answer continues to lie just beyond our reach.