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Nassau lawmakers authorize bid to buy homeland security building

The building housing the Morrelly Homeland Security Center

The building housing the Morrelly Homeland Security Center at 510 Grumman Road West in Bethpage, is shown on July 29, 2015. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau Legislature voted Friday to provide the county with authority to bid an undisclosed amount at a Jan. 10 auction to purchase the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, where the Office of Emergency Management and Nassau Police Department currently lease space.

New York Commercial Bank foreclosed on the building after the property owner, Applied Science Center of Innovation and Excellence in Homeland Security Research, defaulted on its mortgage loan last year.

While county officials declined to discuss how much it would bid for the 87,000-square-foot building, a real estate listing for the property says bidders should expect a “minimum obligation” of roughly $6.395 million.

Nassau would use unused capital funds and Police Department asset forfeiture dollars to bid on the building, said Brian Nevin, spokesman to County Executive Edward Mangano.

The GOP-controlled Legislature met privately with county lawyers for nearly two hours Friday to discuss details of the auction.

When they emerged from executive session, GOP lawmakers voted to give the county authority to bid a set amount on the property. The county also agreed to perform an initial environmental study of the property before the auction.

The seven Democratic legislators abstained from the vote, arguing they were granted less than an hour to review a lengthy county analysis related to the property. “We just do not have enough time to commit to a deal of this magnitude,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said if lawmakers did not give the county authority to bid on the property, they risked “disrupting emergency management at the worst possible time.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the Office of Emergency Management “does not have a viable alternative at this point.”

County officials said relocating OEM to a new space would take at least nine months, and result in substantial relocation costs and the purchase or lease of a substitute property.

The county’s lease with Applied Sciences expires in 2020 and would terminate with the building sale.

“The building is uniquely built out to meet emergency management and security needs,” said Nevin, adding that the state invested $20 million in the building in recent years.

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos said Friday he was “excluded from evaluating the economic benefit of the purchase” and was not ready to give the county the authority to make a down payment — typically 10 percent of the sale price — on the day of the auction.

“The Comptroller’s Office will not authorize the issuance of a check for any bid or down payment without prior review and approval,” Maragos said.

Mangano spokesman Ed Ward said county officials will brief Maragos early next week on their bid plans.

“The safety of residents must not be compromised by the Comptroller’s political posturing,” said County Attorney Carnell Foskey.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state oversight board in control of the county’s finances, also has requested information about the auction. NIFA spokesman David Chauvin said it’s “premature” to say if the board will vote on the issue at its Jan. 5 meeting.

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