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Islip Town to brief school district on Heartland tax issue

Jerry Wolkoff, developer of Heartland Town Center, on

Jerry Wolkoff, developer of Heartland Town Center, on the site. In August 2012, Wolkoff and Islip Town were embroiled in contentious negotiations over the renewal of an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes on the $4 billion Heartland project in Brentwood. Credit: Newsday, 2010 / Audrey C. Tiernan

Islip Town officials are scheduled to brief members of the Brentwood school board Thursday in a private meeting about the town's contentious negotiations on the renewal of a tax break for the developer of the massive Heartland development.

Members of the school board are said to be debating the financial implications for the school district of the renewal of the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement for Gerald Wolkoff's stalled $4 billion Heartland project in Brentwood.

Islip Town officials have said they favor renewing the PILOT but increasing the Heartland property's tax bill, and, though not required, would like approval from the school board. Wolkoff has said he won't pay more.

The meeting between the school board and Bill Mannix, executive director of the Islip Industrial Development Agency, which administers PILOT agreements, and town assessor Ronald F. Devine will take place during the board's executive session, and will therefore be closed to the public.

Rick Belyea, school district spokesman, said the board decided to hold a closed meeting because of looming threats by Wolkoff to challenge his tax assessment in court if his taxes are increased. Belyea said the school board's attorney will attend the meeting to provide legal advice.

"This is basically our school board wanting to find out what their best course of action is if there is in fact a lawsuit filed," Belyea said.

Wolkoff, who purchased the 450-acre property from the state for $20 million in 2002, would have paid $3.3 million in property taxes last year under the property's assessment of $120 million, which Wolkoff said is vastly inflated. Last year he paid $1.6 million under the 10-year PILOT, which expired earlier this year.

Wolkoff said he could challenge the assessment in court if the town moves to increase the amount of taxes he pays on the property.

"If they try to raise it, I can challenge it," Wolkoff said Wednesday. "There's courts there to challenge tax bills if you're not assessed properly."

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