New tax pact expected for Heartland developer

Jerry Wolkoff, developer of Heartland Town Center, on Jerry Wolkoff, developer of Heartland Town Center, on the site. In August 2012, Wolkoff and Islip Town were embroiled in contentious negotiations over the renewal of an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes on the $4 billion Heartland project in Brentwood. Photo Credit: Newsday, 2010 / Audrey C. Tiernan

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The Islip Town Industrial Development Agency is poised to approve a new 10-year tax break for the developer of the stalled Heartland project, officials said Wednesday.

Heartland developer Gerald Wolkoff and the Brentwood Union Free School District have brokered a tentative agreement to provide Wolkoff with a payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT), for another decade.

Bill Mannix, executive director of Islip's IDA, which administers the tax breaks to encourage economic development, said the agency's board will likely approve the pact at its Feb. 12 meeting.

Mannix said the PILOT gives the school board "certainty." Without it, he said, the payments could fluctuate based on an assessment challenge. "That's the risk that the board was looking at and wanting to mitigate," Mannix said.

Both parties are finalizing details of the agreement and declined to divulge its terms. Wolkoff, who purchased the 450-acre site of the former Pilgrim State Hospital from the state for $20 million in 2002, has saved millions in taxes with the original PILOT, which expired last year.

But the project -- in which Wolkoff wants to build 9,000 apartments, a movie theater and shops on the Brentwood campus -- has been delayed by disputes over use of union workers and traffic mitigation, including from the Sagtikos Parkway.

In a phone interview, Wolkoff said the new tax break is "probably going to mirror image what I got now."

For 2012-13, IDA officials said, Wolkoff paid $1.6 million in taxes. Without the PILOT, he would have paid about $3.5 million.

The Islip Town Board, which doubles as the IDA board, has final approval of the tax break, but shifted negotiation responsibility to the school board, which receives more than 70 percent of property tax payments.

The PILOT arrangement is being made despite the town board having raised property taxes 28 percent last year to help plug a $26 million budget deficit.

Republican Town Supervisor Tom Croci said, "The Town of Islip was there to present the facts to the school board -- what it meant to them in revenue."

"We will look to PILOTs and IDA assistance whenever we're trying to attract the kind of building and construction jobs that are easier to do outside of New York State. Naturally, a project of this magnitude would at least warrant a look at IDA assistance . . . "

Joseph Bond, the Brentwood schools superintendent, said the school board had not "signed off on all of the details. The board had a lot to consider with this. They had to be very careful to make sure we're getting the very best deal possible."

Former Brentwood school board member Joe Fritz said if the IDA approves the PILOT extension, it would be "in effect, subsidizing a very wealthy man."

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