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Comptroller to audit Nassau IDA, fulfilling campaign promise

Schnirman said the review aims to further the IDA’s mission to serve “as an economic engine to keep residents’ taxes down, not drive them up.”

Long Beach residents, seen here on July 28,

Long Beach residents, seen here on July 28, 2016, opposed tax breaks from the county IDA for the developer of the city's Superblock waterfront apartments. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman is auditing the county’s Industrial Development Agency, which gives tax breaks to expanding businesses.

Schnirman, in an interview on Monday, said the IDA audit is his first of a county agency since taking office on Jan. 1.

He said he is fulfilling a campaign promise to examine the IDA, which has drawn fire in recent years for aiding automobile dealerships and self-storage facilities.

“We are hoping to assist the IDA in its mission of creating jobs and serving as an economic engine to keep residents’ taxes down, not drive them up,” Schnirman said.

He is expected to officially announce the audit on Tuesday.

The controller’s director of field audit, JoAnn Greene, sent a letter Friday telling the IDA of the audit and requesting a meeting with IDA officials.

IDA executive director Joseph J. Kearney did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The Nassau IDA is among the most active of Long Island’s eight IDAs, with 173 projects receiving tax breaks in 2016, a 158 percent increase from 2004’s 67 projects, according to a Newsday analysis of certified IDA reports filed with the state.

Projects aided by the Nassau IDA created 14,478 jobs in 2016 compared with a loss of 8,678 jobs in 2004. Tax savings granted to the projects totaled $44 million in 2016, up 311 percent from 12 years earlier, the analysis showed.

Schnirman said Monday his audit is intended to be “constructive, not adversarial . . . County residents have raised a number of questions about the IDA, and an audit can help us get answers,” he said.

Schnirman, a former Long Beach city manager, is familiar with the Nassau IDA because the developer of waterfront apartments on Long Beach’s Super Block parcel sought IDA tax breaks more than once. The requests came to nothing in the face of fierce opposition at public hearings attended by hundreds of people.

The IDA was last audited in 2011 by Schnirman’s predecessor, George Maragos, at the behest of the IDA’s then new board of directors.

Maragos, at the time a Republican, found the IDA under Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, had failed to seek an independent analysis of the economic benefits of each project before awarding tax incentives. He also found inadequate monitoring of whether companies keep their employment promises in return for IDA help.

Many of the problems were corrected by the Nassau IDA, under Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, before Maragos released his audit.

During Mangano’s eight years in office, the IDA aided 88 building projects that will generate nearly $94 million in investment, tax payments and other economic activity over the life of the incentive packages, which can be 10, 20 and even 40 years, according to a December report commissioned by the IDA. As a group, the projects will create 11,127 jobs.

Schnirman said his audit will cover 2015 through 2017 and will include a review of some projects. The Maragos audit looked at 21 projects over 14 years.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect spelling of former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi’s surname.

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