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Brentwood school board debates tax deal

Heartland Town Square seeks to transform the former

Heartland Town Square seeks to transform the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center into a minicity

Above, the latest rendering for Heartland Town Square, Water Tower Plaza at dusk. (March 2011) Credit: Heartland

The president of the Brentwood school board said the panel is weighing its options regarding the renewal of a tax abatement for the developer of the stalled $4 billion Heartland project and looks forward to meeting with the developer.

The board met in closed session last week with Islip Town officials to discuss the options for renewal of a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for Gerald Wolkoff's 450-acre property, the site of the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center. Though the school board has no official role in approving a PILOT agreement, town officials have stressed they want the school board, which receives the bulk of property tax payments, to support whatever agreement is approved.

"We're never satisfied with the funding," said Helen Moss, president of the school board. "We always want more money."

She declined, however, to comment on the board's discussions, saying whatever the board decides will "best serve the community."

Wolkoff said he plans to meet with the school board in the coming weeks, but he has said he's not willing to pay more than his "fair share."

Wolkoff's 10-year tax break began in 2002 when he purchased the property for $19.7 million from the state. The PILOT expired earlier this year.

Wolkoff's efforts to build a mini-city on the site over 20 years -- including more than 9,000 apartments, a movie theater and artists' lofts -- has been sidelined by disputes between Wolkoff and town officials over traffic mitigation and the use of union workers on the project.

Members of the school board are said to be divided over the agreement, with some wanting to discontinue the PILOT in hopes of bringing more revenue to the school system.

While town officials have said they want Wolkoff to pay more than he's paid in the past, they've said they're amenable to renewing the PILOT, perhaps for a shorter time period.Wolkoff has paid about $13 million in total in property taxes since 2002.

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