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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Tax breaks rise faster than new jobs

Demands for scrutiny of Industrial Development Agencies are rising, too.

A protester holds a sign at a Hempstead

A protester holds a sign at a Hempstead Town IDA meeting that addressed tax breaks to the Green Acres Mall, on Oct. 26, 2016. Taxes rose for some residents because of a budgeting error by two Valley Stream school districts. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

There’s nothing wrong with the mission of Long Island’s eight industrial development agencies, which is to attract and keep businesses — and the jobs they create — in exchange for tax breaks and other financial incentives.

But a Newsday analysis of IDA activity for 2004, compared with IDA activity for 2016, nonetheless found a few things worth examining.

While tax breaks for businesses, new housing developments and other projects jumped 231 percent, jobs created rose by only 109 percent.

Put a simpler way, residents in some IDA jurisdictions are picking up the tab for business tax breaks and getting little significant job creation in return — in a region where young people are fleeing, in part, because of too few good-paying jobs.

Some IDAs are more successful at creating jobs than others. In 2016, the Suffolk IDA created the most of any of the agencies, the analysis by Newsday’s James T. Madore showed.

Suffolk and Brookhaven appear to be more selective about what they back, working to help manufacturers or regional projects like the Ronkonkoma Hub.

Others — and Nassau IDA, we’re looking at you — have, as is allowed under state law, extended help more broadly to businesses such as car dealerships and storage facilities.

Between 2014 and 2017, Nassau’s IDA granted breaks to four dealerships to expand showrooms, using a “tourism exemption” because many of the car customers came to the dealership from New York City.

But while Nassau’s breaks for car dealerships seem a stretch — and highlight a law that could benefit from some tightening — the county IDA also has helped fuel the building boom around Farmingdale’s Long Island Rail Road station.

Nonetheless, there remains cause for concern, if only because the number of active IDA projects is growing to the point where various IDAs are competing with each other.

In Nassau, there’s been discussion of consolidating the county and Hempstead Town IDAs, a move that could make it easier to — finally — gain significant redevelopment in the Hub area in Uniondale.

Consolidation, in fact, is one remedy that IDA reformers believe will boost projects, while removing competition they blame for driving up business property tax breaks — which, in turn, burden taxpayers left to take up the slack.

Until 2016, most IDA activity drew little public notice.

But that changed after public outcry over tax breaks requested by the developer of waterfront apartments on Long Beach’s Superblock.

There also were protests over tax breaks granted to Green Acres Mall and an adjacent shopping strip by the Hempstead IDA. Tax bills increased for some residents because of a budgeting error by two Valley Stream school districts.

As one result, there currently are eight IDA reform bills pending in Albany. And on Monday, Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman said his office would audit Nassau’s IDA.

The trick, all around, will be to keep IDAs on their original mission.

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