The 20-year tax break given to developers through an agreement the Mineola Board of Trustees made with the industrial development agency led to more than $7 million in tax avoidance, according to former Trustee Larry Werther.

Money that Werther said could have gone towards school tax breaks.

“If $7 million were dumped into this budget everyone would’ve gotten a tax break,” Werther said. “We could’ve had an impact on school taxes, but you chose not to.”

Werther came before the board during the Nov. 14 board of trustees meeting and presented assessments of the value of three properties the board approved the development of with the IDA tax break, along with what developers would pay in taxes on properties without the IDA.

The three properties are the new apartments at 1 Third Ave, 160 Old Country Road, and 104 Front St., assessed by Werther at around $60.6 million, $48.9 million, and $2.9 million, respectively.

With the current property tax rate for New York, developers would have paid about $3 million in taxes for the buildings at 1 Third Ave and 160 Old Country Road, according to Werther. The 104 Front St building would’ve cost developers over $180,000 in taxes, Werther said.

The Mineola Union Free School District raises $78.8 million through the tax levy – 8.9 percent of the tax levy would have been paid by the developers, according to Werther.

“In my professional career before I retired I had people asking me how am I going to retire and put money away, and a 10 or 20 percent tax break on school taxes would do that,” Wirther said. “There are seniors in our village right now wondering how they’re going to pay for their medications, and a 20 percent school tax break would pay for that.”

Mayor Scott Strauss said the board does not control school taxes.

Werther said the school could have used that money to go toward the lottery bilingual education program, which Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira later corrected.

The district does not have a lottery bilingual program, there is a dual language program available to all children and a lottery full day pre-school in addition to the half day pre-school available to all students, Pereira said.

Michael Nagler, superintendent for the Mineola Union Free School District, said separately from the meeting that to date there has been no negative effect either in budget or student enrollment from the apartments that were constructed.

Werther, who briefly served as Mayor in 2011 and plans on running against Strauss in the March elections, also said the building at 160 Old Country Road is different than the plans originally presented to and voted on by the board. The building is made out of wood not the proposed steel, he said.

Strauss said the building is built to New York State code. He added that as a firefighter, and father of two firefighters, he would have no problem driving a fire truck to that building – and said he believes every fire fighter would agree that building is safe.

Werther said his issue is not concerning safety.

“If you order a Merdecez-Benz and somebody delivers a Toyota it’s still a car,” Werther said. “They lied, and you let them get away with that.”

Werther also said the 20 year tax break with the IDA is even more poignant now based on the proposed federal tax reform that will “put a knife in the heart of all New Yorkers.” The proposed reform will take away deductibility of property taxes and mortgage interests, Werther said.

While Strauss said he agrees with Werther that the IDA is flawed, he said the buildings are a “boon to the village.”

Strauss and other board members, including Pereira and Trustee Dennis Walsh, said they believe the buildings would not have been developed if not for the tax breaks.

The board also said some of the properties, including 1 Third Ave, the former Keyspan building, were previously not taxable.

“The district who was not getting a penny from the Keyspan … is now getting substantial amounts of money and increases every year,” Pereira said, adding that he was sad Werther was not there to hear this as he had left before the board finished responding.

Trustee Walsh added that the board is limited in their abilities. The IDA was created by the state, and is not something the board can control, Walsh said. If the board did choose to turn down the developer’s offer, the decision would be overturned in court for the board overextending authority, Walsh said.

Pereira also said “it is just wrong” for Werther to convolute this with the proposed federal tax reform as if the board could have foreseen that six years ago, when Werther himself was on the board.

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