A member of the Hempstead Town’s Industrial Development Agency said this week that the organization would conduct a second economic-impact analysis after Valley Stream residents saw their school taxes rise due to tax breaks for the Green Acres Mall.
The announcement came as elected officials, IDA Senior Member Jonathan Kohan and IDA attorney John Ryan faced questions from a furious crowd of more than 500 residents at a community forum Wednesday night at the William L. Buck elementary school in Valley Stream.
IDA officials said the organization had done an economic-impact analysis before it approved tax breaks for Macerich, the California-based owner of Green Acres Mall, in December 2014. But Kohan said the agency would commission a second analysis next week. The results of that report are expected within 30 to 45 days.
“We’ll see what the numbers say and we’ll go from there,” he said.
The tax breaks for the mall mean residents in Valley Stream school districts 13, 24 and 30 saw tax increases of between $322 and $758 on average this year. But some residents reported receiving even higher increases.
“I couldn’t believe it,” District 30 resident Bernadette Lakovits said of opening her tax bill to find an increase of more than $1,100. “We don’t know who to blame.”
The town’s IDA had granted the mall’s owner a sales-tax exemption of $6 million, a mortgage-recording tax exemption, and a $14 million agreement for a payment in lieu of taxes over 10 years — with the option to extend it for five more years — on its planned $79 million renovation to the approximately 1.7 million-square-foot mall.
But the hundreds of dollars in tax increases for residents weren’t reflected until this year’s tax bill, which was sent out this month.
Though the IDA’s executive director, Fred Parola, previously has said the deal cannot legally be changed, on Wednesday, Kohan said the agency will take a second look.
“I want to be clear with you, an economic fiscal statement was done. It’s required by statute, it drills down to the taxpayer’s level,” Kohan said. “But the board is not that arrogant to think that mistakes can’t be made.”
Wednesday’s 90-minute meeting was fraught with technical issues, and residents in an overflow room said they couldn’t hear the speakers.
Kohan and Ryan agreed to a second forum, which has not yet been scheduled. Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman said the Town Board is committed to challenging the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, and will seek legal action if the IDA refuses to overturn its decision. Two state lawmakers this month called for the state comptroller to audit the tax breaks.
But Blakeman resisted calls from some residents and lawmakers to fire the IDA members over the issue, saying it would be better to work with the existing members.
Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who was also present at the community forum, discussed the PILOT at a meeting of the Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon.
Maragos called the IDA’s decision “unprecedented” and said the town should absorb the cost of the PILOT so taxpayers don’t have to make up the difference.
Christine O’Toole, a District 13 resident, said on Wednesday there’s not much left for residents to do but wait and see how it plays out. “I’m going to put it in the hands of the Town of Hempstead now,” she said.