The Nassau Industrial Development Agency's approval of a tax benefit for low-income housing developer Omni New York Llc came four months after the company contributed $15,000 to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi's re-election campaign, according to public records.
Omni New York made the contribution on April 30, 11 days before it submitted an application for a partial tax abatement known as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, records show. The county executive appoints the IDA board members.
Last month, the development agency approved the application - the biggest tax break of its kind in Nassau - for Omni to buy and renovate 247 low-income apartments in the high-crime Bedell Terrace section of Hempstead Village.
The contribution falls within the $46,599 cap set by the county's board of elections for limited-liability companies. But it can convey an impression that officials award public benefits to contributors, said Syracuse University political scientist Jeffrey Stonecash.
"The public gets enormously skeptical about the role of money in campaigns and decisions," said Stonecash, co-editor of "Governing New York State," a collection of essays on state government and politics.
"I'm surprised Suozzi would do this," he said. ". . . His primary claim to being politically relevant is that he's been for reform . . . You can't say you're for reform and then take large contributions from developers."
A spokeswoman for Suozzi said his support for the tax break was unrelated to the donation.
"The contribution had absolutely nothing to do" with his support of the project, said Jennifer Kim. "Without the PILOT, NY Homes [the state housing agency] would not have guaranteed the $17.5-million mortgage and the more than 200 units could not have been affordable for residents."
Asked for comment, OMNI New York managing director Eugene Schneur said, "There's no connection between our PILOT and any contribution we make."
The project has sparked criticism at public hearings from community leaders and residents who fear that another tax break would shift more of the tax burden onto homeowners.
At a village board meeting Tuesday, Trustee Don Ryan said the county should reimburse the village for any lost taxes. "If the county is so enthused about this project, then make us whole," said Ryan, who voted against a resolution in support of the PILOT. "They are building affordable housing in this village disproportionately and putting it on the backs of taxpayers."
The first annual PILOT payment would be about $156,000, said Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Joseph Gioino. The total in school, village and general taxes paid on the Bedell Terrace complex last year was about $775,065.
In 2003, the six companies that got tax breaks or other incentives from the development agency had contributed either to Suozzi's campaign or to then-agency treasurer David Mejias, now a county legislator, according to The New York Times.