The owner of a building that serves as a large Suffolk homeless shelter will receive $2.7 million a year in county money for rent, even as the county is billing him nearly $900,000 for back taxes, public records show.
Viral Patel's Commack Hospitality LLC owns the Brentwood property where the social services department recently opened a 400-bed family shelter, which is among the county's largest. Suffolk is contracting with a Central Islip nonprofit, Long Island Women's Empowerment Network, to operate the shelter.
The nonprofit leases the building from Commack Hospitality, which the Suffolk treasurer's office says owes $899,749 in taxes from 2011 to 2013. Officials have the right to seize and resell the property, but say they've held off in hopes of getting Patel to pay.
Long Island Women's is not involved in the tax dispute.
Patel, who previously ran a hotel on the Brentwood site, did not return repeated calls for comment.
County Executive Steve Bellone's office and key legislators expressed concern that public funds are effectively covering $2,743,122 million in annual rent payments to Patel. The administration and lawmakers say they were unaware of the tax debts because they only vetted the nonprofit for its contract.
Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood) said of Patel: "We're in essence paying him to pay us. The reality is, this is not supposed to happen."
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), chairman of the legislature's Human Services Committee, said, "You would think somewhere in the process, the property itself would have been vetted, other than just looking at whether it was fit for the purpose."
Julie Levine, president of the Long Island Women's Empowerment Network, declined to comment on her lease with Patel. The nonprofit entered into its contract with the county in January.
New York State fully reimburses counties for the cost of emergency family assistance. Suffolk's contract with Long Island Women's authorizes funding of $6.3 million annually if the shelter is run at full capacity; up to a third of the money can be used for rent.
The county treasurer's office said Patel made a partial $90,000 payment on his 2011 tax bill in April, reducing his balance, including interest and penalties, to $207,487 for 2011. He also owes $361,561 for 2012 and $330,700 for 2013, county records show.
Chief Deputy County Treasurer Douglas Southerland said the county has tried unsuccessfully to contact Patel about the bill. When a tax bill is past due, the treasurer has the right to seize the property and sell it at a public auction to recoup its losses. Southerland said his office always tries to first work out payment plans, or have mortgage firms assist.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said seizure of the property is the only other recourse under the county Tax Act, despite the delinquent site's use for a county purpose. "At the end of the day, either this property owner is going to pay his taxes, or we're going to take his property," he said.