NY lawmakers OK Suffolk sale-leaseback

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ALBANY -- The State Senate, working past dawn Saturday, gave final passage to help get Suffolk County a large cash infusion and lower tax assessments for properties damaged by superstorm Sandy.

On the final day of the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers rushed to approve a slew of local-government requests. While the Assembly finished its work around 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Senate didn't adjourn until 6:45 a.m. Saturday.

Among its final actions, the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to raise the retirement age for judges of the state Court of Appeals -- New York's highest court -- from 70 to 80.

The measure also would raise the retirement age for State Supreme Court justices from 76 to 80. Voters would have to approve the amendment this fall.

Locally, lawmakers passed renewals of sales taxes for both Nassau and Suffolk counties and Nassau's hotel-motel tax.

They also approved a key element of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's financial plan: selling the Dennison Building and the North County Complex and leasing them back. It could give the county a cash infusion of $70 million.

The sale-leaseback was initially proposed by Republicans early in Bellone's first year in office. He was skeptical at first -- with his aides going as far as calling it a gimmick -- but the administration embraced the idea last fall as a "last resort" to balance the 2013 budget and avoid steep cuts later this year.

"We've worked to streamline government and find recurring savings at an aggressive pace," Bellone said Friday, noting his recent efforts to close the county nursing home and merge the county's comptroller's and treasurer's offices. "But with our structural deficit so massive, it's clear that we need some 'one-shots' to bridge the gap."

Even so, he acknowledged that options for one-time cash infusions have nearly run out.

"When you're selling and leasing back the Dennison Building, you're at the bottom of the barrel of your one-shot solutions," Bellone said.

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The Legislature failed to act on a bill to allow Nassau County to borrow $305 million -- without NIFA approval -- to pay property-tax refunds.

Legislators passed a bill authorizing municipalities and school districts to lower 2012-13 tax assessments on properties damaged 20 percent or more during superstorm Sandy. Eligible property owners who have already paid based on full value would be in line for a refund if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the bill.

"Passing this bill has brought us another step closer to helping those who were devastated by the hurricane," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), a sponsor along with Sen. Philip Boyle (R-Bay Shore).

"When this bill becomes law, property owners will be spared from paying full taxes on homes that were no longer there or no longer habitable after the storm," Sweeney said in a statement. "This is a simple matter of fairness."

With Paul LaRocco

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