The Valley Stream mayor on Wednesday called on the state comptroller to audit a village school district, saying the district’s budgeting practices relating to payments it received from the Green Acres Mall may be the cause of hundreds of dollars in tax hikes for residents.
In a letter to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Valley Stream Mayor Edwin Fare said the Valley Stream School District 30’s estimation of the payments were “grossly underreported, and [I] believe that this was an error that led to the wildly disproportionate tax increase ...”
In December 2014, the Valley Stream mall was granted tax incentives by the Hempstead Town Industrial Development Authority, including a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement.
School officials said they were never officially informed how much of the $13.7 million PILOT money they would receive for the 2016-17 school year, so they estimated the amount at just 50 percent. In fact, the IDA has said, the district is supposed to receive 72.2 percent of the PILOT payments — meaning the school district underestimated the amount it would receive by nearly $3 million for that school year.
The mayor’s letter to DiNapoli shifts the blame for the sudden tax hikes away from the IDA — which has been vilified by some taxpayers and politicians — and focuses on District 30 instead.
Fare has asked the comptroller’s office to review District 30’s budgeting process “to determine if indeed errors were made, whether intentional or not, and what if any relief is available to our residents in the form of tax rebates or reductions in the future.”
A spokesman for the state comptroller said the office has not yet received Fare’s request but it is aware of the Valley Stream controversy. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) already have asked DiNapoli to conduct an audit of the agreement.
In a statement, District 30 responded to the mayor’s claims by saying that it “did not intentionally undercount PILOT revenue” and made a “reasonable and good faith estimate” of the amount it would receive.
In a news conference Wednesday, Fare also said he wants DiNapoli to examine the roles of the IDA and the county assessor’s office, and he called for state legislators to enact new IDA oversight.
“We don’t need petitions, we don’t need boycotts. We need meaningful legislation,” Fare said.
IDA Executive Director Fred Parola said Wednesday the IDA has not been contacted by the state comptroller’s office, but he welcomed any further review or audit.
“We’ve invited anyone who wants to look at our books,” Parola said. “We’ve made the request available to any elected official.”
He said officials from the state comptroller’s office reviewed several of the agency’s projects last summer, including the Green Acres Mall plan, as part of a statewide review of IDA procedures. Parola said the comptroller’s office did not note any irregularities or make any recommendations, but the state comptroller’s spokesman said that statewide review is ongoing.
Separately, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is conducting an audit of the PILOT. On Nov. 3, his office served subpoenas to the IDA and two town officials requesting documents relating to the tax breaks, but his office has said no documents have been produced. Maragos since has asked the county attorney to enforce the subpoenas in court.
The town had threatened to sue the IDA over the tax breaks, but officials say that lawsuit now is on hold. The town board named six new members to the IDA on Nov. 15 to replace those who resigned en masse in the face of threats by the town supervisor to remove them.
With James T. Madore