Assembly Member Fred Thiele speaking at a meeting in Riverhead Feb. 8. Photo: Denise Civiletti

New York’s industrial development agencies are in the crosshairs of the State Legislature in the current legislative session.

“IDA reform is a priority for this session,”  Assembly Member Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) told RiverheadLOCAL earlier this month.

Thiele chairs the Assembly’s local governments committee, which has control over legislation relating to IDAs.

“We have more than a dozen bills directed at IDA reform in my committee,” Thiele said. “We are reviewing them all,” he said. “We are looking to develop a package of legislation for later in the session.”

Thiele said he is not taking a position on any specific bill yet.

IDA reform legislation has the support of the powerful New York State United Teachers, which represents more than 600,000 teachers statewide, including those employed by the Riverhead Central School District. 

NYSUT members, including the president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, held a rally in support of a bill sponsored by State Sen. Sean Ryan (D), chairman of the Senate’s economic development committee, and Assembly Member Harry Bronson (D), chairman of the Assembly’s labor committee.

MORE COVERAGE: Riverhead teachers union speaks out at Albany rally for bills to ban IDA school tax exemptions

Riverhead school district officials have also voiced strong support for IDA reform, citing the impacts school property tax abatements have on school district revenues.

According to data reported by the Riverhead IDA to the Office of the State Comptroller, net school property tax exemptions granted by RIDA in the decade from 2013 to 2022 totaled more than $15 million.

MORE COVERAGE: Teachers, school district officials and state lawmakers take a stand against IDA school tax exemptions

The Southold Town Board last week unanimously adopted a resolution in support of the Ryan/Bronson bill.

Southold Town’s action came after the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency last month approved tax breaks for the developer of a controversial $43.9 million luxury hotel in the hamlet of Southold. The approval grants a 15-year tax abatement on school, town and county property taxes, as well as state and county sales exemptions and mortgage recording tax exemptions. 

The Riverhead Town Board is not likely to express support of reform measures. Despite community opposition to Riverhead IDA’s actions in recent years, members of the Riverhead Town Board have consistently defended the Riverhead IDA. One of Town Board members,  Bob Kern, is a former RIDA board member, as is the town’s economic development director, Dawn Thomas. 

Supervisor Tim Hubbard said last week at a Greater Calverton Civic Association meeting that IDA tax breaks work as incentives for business development that brings jobs and builds the town’s tax base. 

Current tax abatements granted by the IDA result in more taxes being paid by a property owner once the abatement expires than the town or school district would otherwise receive had the development not occurred, the supervisor said. 

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) told RiverheadLOCAL last year he supports the Ryan bill and would vote in favor of it when it comes to a floor vote in the Senate. He reiterated his support last month at a meeting of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, where he said he would speak to Ryan and seek to co-sponsor the measure, expressing the hope that “we can get it moving.”

Assembly Member Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow), a former Riverhead Town council member whose Second Assembly District includes the Town of Riverhead, said last month she does not support the legislation. 

IDAs work, Giglio said. IDAs provide needed incentives for private investment that creates tax base growth over the long term, improves blighted properties and creates new jobs, she said. 

Giglio pointed to a downtown apartment building developed by a company in which she is a partner as an example of the efficacy of IDA benefits. Tax abatements for the building, Summerwind Square, have now ended and the property taxes generated by the site far exceed any tax revenues paid by the property owners before the redevelopment — or any revenues likely to have been generated by those properties had Summerwind Square not been developed, Giglio said.

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