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Riverhead officials resist efforts to grant more tax breaks to SCCC's culinary institute

The town and school district sued the company that leases the property for nonpayment and late fees of more than $260G from a 2007 PILOT deal.

Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts School in

Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts School in Riverhead. Photo Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

The Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency has tabled a proposal granting more tax reductions to a culinary institute in downtown Riverhead that is seeking to amend and extend their PILOT deal despite previously failing to make any payments on the deal signed in 2007.

Culinary Arts Riverhead LLC, a company owned by Ronkonkoma developer Ron Parr, who owns and leases the property to Suffolk County Community College, is applying to the IDA for a 10-year, 100 percent tax reduction for the cooking school. The tax reduction would cover the remaining 10 years of the school's 20-year property lease, according to IDA officials.

Ben Zwirn, the college’s director of legislative affairs, said Friday that the payments in lieu of taxes would keep county taxpayers — who largely fund the college — from having to pay for taxes on the $3.3 million, 28,600-square-foot cooking school on Main Street.

Riverhead and school district officials are opposed to those tax reductions.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said though the school is closed on weekends and during the summer, she is concerned that when classes are in session, its 832 students take up prime parking spaces during the day from people coming to shop and dine downtown.

“We’re put in a very difficult place," said Jens-Smith, who does not favor additional tax abatements. "We like the college, they do wonders for the community, the county and our residents. But we’re being put in a very awkward place by the landlord.”

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Friday that she is not comfortable giving the school tax reductions when other schools on taxable property in Riverhead have to pay taxes.

In 2006, the Suffolk IDA agreed to provide 10 years of property tax breaks to Culinary Arts Riverhead for the cooking school. That savings is passed along to the college through lower rent payments.

However, a lawsuit the town and the Riverhead School District Board of Education filed in September alleged the company “failed to make any payments to the IDA since entering into the PILOT” agreement and owed the school district $168,493.30 in PILOT payments and $52,589.34 in late fees. The town was also owed $77,330.36 in PILOT payments and $24,004.40 in late fees.

The Riverhead Town Board voted 4-1 at its regular meeting Nov. 7 to authorize a settlement for the payments between the town, the school district and Culinary Arts Riverhead, which town officials said would cover nearly all payments and fees owed. Giglio voted against the settlement.

At the Suffolk IDA meeting on Nov. 15 in Hauppauge, IDA attorney William Wexler  suggested to Riverhead Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz and Town Assessor Laverne D. Tennenberg that they come back to the IDA with a counterproposal prior to the agency’s Dec. 14 meeting.

Kozakiewicz said he would speak with town and school district officials about putting forward a counter proposal.

Zwirn said Thursday that the college “is a little disappointed” about the town’s opposition to more tax breaks for its cooking school, adding that the facility trains people for jobs in the booming tourism industry and enlivens the downtown area.

Parr agreed. “One hundred percent of their students as graduates find jobs,” he said Friday. “What more of an economic benefit can you have?”

With Rick Brand and James T. Madore

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