Riverhead Town officials are expected to vote today on a measure to authorize a lawsuit challenging a property tax abatement granted by the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency.
The Suffolk County IDA on Jan. 24 granted a 10-year, 75-percent property tax abatement to the owner of the East Main Street building, which is leased to Suffolk County Community College.
Riverhead Town officials objected to the new abatement at public hearings held by the IDA in both Riverhead and Hauppauge.
The property owner and landlord had been previously granted a 10-year property tax abatement by the Suffolk County IDA beginning in 2009. As that expired, the owner applied for a new 100-percent abatement for the next 10 years, representing the balance of its 20-year lease with Suffolk County Community College, which occupies the entire building. Under the terms of the lease, the college is responsible for all property taxes and assessments. College officials argued that if the college owned the building, it would be fully exempt from property taxes.
Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said at the IDA hearing in Riverhead that the culinary school “is not an economic generator for downtown,” which the town is “working hard to revitalize.” The facility, she said, “no longer conforms to what we’re looking to do downtown,” she said. “It’s closed on weekends, leaving a blank, open space. It’s closed during the summertime.” Students also use “our prime parking area,” she said.
Ben Zwirn, the college’s intergovernmental relations coordinator disputed that assessment. The school has 832 students, nine full-time staff, 14 part-time staff and 35 adjunct faculty, he said.
After the vote in January, Jens-Smith said she hopes the town and the college can have a dialogue to improve the “community connection” between the culinary facility and downtown Riverhead.
“It was a big step for the town when they first came in,” she said of the college. “They said they’d be open — and open on weekends. The past two years, they closed on weekends and closed in the summer. The front of the building has been dark,” Jens-Smith said.
The supervisor said she would pursue discussions with the college to address those concerns.
The resolution on today’s town board agenda was put forward by Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said in January that the property owner’s “application didn’t meet the criteria for benefits.” Giglio at the time advocated challenging the IDA decision in court.
It’s not clear if Giglio will have the three votes needed for the resolution to pass.
Whether she has the votes or not, “I think decisions like this should be made in public,” Giglio said. If board members agree that the IDA decision should stand, they should vote against the resolution in a public forum, she said.
Last week the councilwoman accused the supervisor of blocking her efforts to get the resolution on the town board’s agenda, which Jens-Smith denied.
Giglio said she is also working with Sen. Ken LaValle’s office to get legislation introduced that would prevent a county IDA from granting tax abatements in a town that has its own IDA, as in Riverhead.
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