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Valley Stream high school district gives OK to sue for $2M

Valley Stream School Superintendent Bill Heidenreich on April

Valley Stream School Superintendent Bill Heidenreich on April 16, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The board of education for Valley Stream’s central high school district on Tuesday authorized its lawyers to sue one of its elementary districts, District 24, to recoup $2 million it is withholding, documents show.

District 24 was to pay the high school district about $20.1 million from its tax levy by mid-May. But the district is keeping $2 million in an escrow account and it wants to see a change in budgeting practices related to payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, known as PILOTs.

The high school district voted earlier this month to ask the state education commissioner to intervene, but the school board is concerned that it would take too long, Superintendent Bill Heidenreich said.

The board voted to allow Hauppauge law firm Ingerman Smith to send a “demand letter” to District 24, documents show. If District 24 does not return the money, then the law firm will send a notice of claim and begin legal action.

The resolution passed 6-0 with three recusals by the members who also serve on District 24’s board of education.

“I’d like to avoid legal action; I think it’s an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money,” he said. “But if we have to spend a few thousand dollars to get $2 million, it’s what we have to do.”

The dispute comes from PILOT agreements that are granted by the Nassau County or Hempstead Town industrial development agencies. Properties that receive such tax breaks are taken off the tax rolls, which changes how much each of Valley Stream’s three elementary districts are to pay the high school district.

The school districts have been involved in a controversy over the PILOTs granted to the Green Acres Mall and adjacent shopping center, Green Acres Commons, by the Hempstead Town IDA. The tax breaks were revoked in April, but the properties have not yet gone back on the tax rolls.

District 24 wants properties that receive tax breaks to be treated as if they remain on the tax rolls so that it won’t change school budgeting practices.

District 24 Superintendent Ed Fale said the district has not received any communication about a possible lawsuit and declined to comment.

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