When Westbury residents began to cry foul over developers' plans to buy a nursing home and extend its tax abatement agreement an additional 10 years, the message from politicians was reassuring: It's not a done deal.
The words of Republicans and Democrats triggered an intense grassroots campaign among residents in the village and neighboring New Cassel. Up for sale is The Bristal Assisted Living facility on Post Avenue; lengthening the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement is a condition of the purchase.
But the extension, lawmakers and residents told the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, or IDA, the group responsible for approving the sale and the PILOT extension, would deprive the cash-strapped community of much-needed revenue -- as much as $7 million over 10 years -- lawmakers said.
At a public hearing Monday before the IDA's board, members appeared battle-weary, sharing outrage over large annual tax increases.
The Bristal, which was first granted a PILOT agreement in 1999, only to have it extended in 2005, has had enough tax abatement, the lawmakers said. The original agreement, said the mayor, was intended to jump-start the new business when it first sprung up and not, they argue, to finance it indefinitely.
The school district would receive the lion's share of the taxes.
"There's no reason to grant this again," said Mary Lagnado, interim superintendent for Westbury schools.
Leading the charge is a squad of county legislators, village and town officials, and a school superintendent, all hopeful that enough community opposition will give the IDA pause.
"This done deal can become undone," said Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) last week.
For some residents, the most recent tax bill, up 19 percent from last year, was especially unnerving.
"We can't afford another tax increase," said Michelle Johnson, who spoke along with her husband, Jose.
The developers include Jan Burman and Steven Krieger, the original owners of the Bristal. Burman said they sold the property in 2007 and are planning to buy it back.
"This is not the intention of what the IDA is supposed to do," said Peter Cavallaro, village mayor, recalling village opposition to an earlier extension.
Brian McMahon, executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council, said PILOTS are often extended to retain community businesses.
"There is a need, in part, in our aging population for senior living facilities," he said.
In its application to the IDA, the developers said the plans call for adding three $31,500-a-year jobs. But if the plans are approved, the village calculated, it would pay nearly $675,000 in its first year, far less than the $1.3 million it would be slated to pay in taxes.
Critics of the plan point out that in Westbury, the median household income, according to recent census data, is more than $80,000.
"If the jobs aren't good jobs," Charlene Obernauer, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, said, "why should community taxpayers be subsidizing them?"
Last week Tania Stamp, 40, a single mother and nurse who lives on Brush Hollow Road, said she was conflicted about staying.
"Should I leave while I can still sell my home or stay, can't pay for it, and they take my house?"
THE BRISTAL ASSISTED LIVING AT WESTBURY
117 Post Ave., Westbury
Opened: October 2001; PILOTS granted: 1999, 2005
THE NEW AGREEMENT
First year's payment, if PILOT is extended: $674,670.67
Total tax without the PILOT: $1,276,548.67
Source: The Village of Westbury