Kessel says further improvements to the IDA are coming

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The Nassau County Executive and Legislative Building as seen in Garden City. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Nassau County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Richard Kessel said he wanted the IDA to continue its recent upward trend, but said the agency has to go beyond what it has been doing in recent years.

“We want to try and improve on what’s been done,” said Kessel, who previously led the state Power Authority.

In the most recent report from the state comptroller’s office on the county IDA, the net tax exemption per job gained in Nassau in 2016 was $3,003, the lowest since 2012. But that number was higher than Westchester County’s $2,961 per job gained and more than six times the amount that Suffolk’s IDA exempted per job gained.

The most recent numbers are from 2016; Kessel did not join the IDA until he was appointed by County Executive Laura Curran earlier this year. A report on the Nassau IDA’s performance this year will likely be released in 2020.

Kessel was reluctant to discuss the 2016 numbers.

“I’m not going to comment on things that happened in the past,” he said. “You can read statistics all different ways.”

But he did say that Nassau could have done better in examining projects, saying that there were “some awards that were controversial in nature.”

Kessel touted reforms that have made the approval process more rigorous and transparent. Projects seeking approval now require a presentation before the entire board of directors; the board must review it and allow a public hearing before it can be approved.

“If there are concerns about PILOTs or the project’s location, we can look at that as well before approval,” he said, referring to payments in lieu of taxes. “It’s a delicate balance between wanting to keep companies and create jobs but also protecting the taxpayer. We need to do a better job than what was done in the past.”

He also said that the IDA would hold quarterly meetings that are open to the public and that exemptions would no longer be given to storage facilities and car dealerships. He said the IDA would like to focus on projects that deal with renewable energy — an area of expertise for Kessel — and transit-oriented development.

Unlike Suffolk, most of the tax exemptions go to retaining jobs rather than creating them. Kessel didn’t necessarily see this as a problem.

“There is a balancing of what you need to do, so I would not belittle job retention,” he said. “But bringing new industries is going to be critically important.”

Kessel said that the IDA was important to Nassau because “you can only raise taxes so much” and bringing in new business was a way to draw revenue.

When it comes to revenue from those businesses, though, Nassau also lags behind. The county was able to recover 50.79 percent of its tax exemptions through PILOTS in 2016, a big improvement over 2012 and 2013, when only about a third of tax exemptions were recovered. But Suffolk and Westchester were able to recover 73 and 66 percent of their PILOTs, respectively.

Kessel said that the PILOTs would be looked at on a “case by case basis” to find something that “makes sense.” He did say that the IDA could improve communication with the local communities to determine how a project would affect school taxes.

“We’ve made it a point to reach out to officials, and I think that’s critically important,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where the community is in an uproar for creating an increase in school taxes.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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