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Freeport mayor says refunding unused $2.7M tax increase is good timing, right thing to do

Freeport officials announced a plan to refund residents up to $2.7 million from a tax increase implemented in March, at a news conference Tuesday morning at Village Hall.. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Freeport property owners will receive a check in the coming weeks after the mayor announced Tuesday that the village will issue refunds to taxpayers who had been in line to foot the bill of a tax increase passed in January.

The 5.23% tax hike aimed to cover a projected $2.7 million increase in costs that officials said was needed to pay for additional personnel, equipment and overtime in the village’s justice court and police department to comply with the state discovery law that took effect Jan. 1.

As a result, an average household was estimated to pay an additional $187 a year, according to the $77 million 2020-2021 budget Freeport officials adopted Jan. 29. The tax increase was the first in the village in seven years.

Tuesday’s announcement came six months after state lawmakers scaled back some of the bail and discovery changes, which largely alleviated the workload village officials expected the new law would put on its police and court personnel.

"I believe there’s no better time to refund this tax increase, which was adopted for a specific reason but ultimately not utilized," Mayor Robert Kennedy said during a news conference at Village Hall, where he was flanked by State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford), Assemb. Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre) and Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead).

As many residents face financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Kennedy said returning the money is the right thing to do.

"With COVID-19, I believe the residents really deserve this money," the mayor said. "It was increased in our budget specifically for discovery. If I’m not going to implement the discovery laws as originally required, then why should I have taken that money? Let’s give it back to the residents."

Because Freeport’s fiscal year runs from March 1 to Feb. 28, Kennedy said the village had to act in January to budget in the anticipated rise in expenditure.

"The majority of villages have a June financial date to close their budget. Ours happens to be in February," the mayor said. "So therefore, many other villages didn’t have to make that decision to increase their taxes because prior to their budget coming … to be adopted, the changes were made."

Brooks called Kennedy’s handling of the budget fiscally "prudent."

"What the mayor did to protect the village [was] presenting a budget to reflect the full charges," the senator said. "From a fiduciary standpoint, he did exactly the right thing.… Today, he’s saying that everybody in the village, I did what I had to do to protect you. The legislators did what they had to do to correct the problem. Here’s your money."

Kennedy said he will present several resolutions at the village’s Oct. 19 meeting for board approval to process the refunds and added that preparation is already underway.

The mayor estimated the checks will arrive in mailboxes within two weeks from Tuesday — with no action needed from homeowners and commercial property owners.

"Some people will be receiving up to $11,000. Some people will be receiving $200," Kennedy said. "It depends on what your assessed value and what your increase was."

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