Nassau still lags in bang for its IDA buck

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The Nassau County Legislative and Executive Building is seen in Mineola. (Photo by DanTD via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2015, then Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos wrote a letter to Joseph Kearney, the executive director of the county’s Industrial Development Agency. A report released by the state showed that Nassau IDA had given out $23,611 in tax exemptions in 2013 per job gained, more than 10 times the state median.

“The above alleged sub-par performance by the NCIDA should be addressed as soon as possible,” Maragos wrote. “It is disappointing that we have fallen behind in these critical areas.”

In the three years since that report, the Nassau IDA has made improvements relative to its peers in the New York City suburbs, Westchester and Suffolk, with 2013 proving to be something of an outlier. But Nassau is still lagging behind when it comes to a return on its tax exemptions.

The net exemption per job gained in Nassau in 2016 was $3,003, the lowest since 2012, according to the New York state comptroller’s annual IDA report, released earlier this month.

But it remains 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.

Of the three counties, Nassau had the most IDA projects with 173. The $88.6 million in tax exemptions was not only the most of the three counties, it was the most of any county in the state by a significant margin (Westchester was second with $48.1 million). While Nassau recovered about half of that through payments in lieu of taxes, its net tax exemptions of $43.6 million were the highest of any IDA in the state save New York City.

These numbers are actually an improvement for Nassau in some areas. The $3,003 net exemption per job gained was half of 2015’s $6,358. The net jobs gain of 14,518 for Nassau was the county’s best number since 2012.

Nassau was also able to recover 50.79 percent of its tax exemptions through PILOTS, the highest amount since 2010 and a big improvement over 2012 and 2013, when only about a third of tax exemptions were recovered.

When the report on 2013 was released and Maragos wrote his letter, Kearney insisted that  no changes needed to be made

“We are not underperforming,” Kearney told Newsday at the time. “I am proud of the job we have done, are doing and will continue to do.”

While Nassau did improve — it’s net exemptions per job gained dropped to $5,855 the following year — the continued lagging behind surrounding counties on return on investment has prompted criticism from county officials.

During last year’s county executive race, both candidates said that the agency needed to be reformed. In February, County Comptroller Jack Schnirman announced that he would be auditing the IDA.

“We need to be sure we are getting a solid return on these investments,” he said.

In March, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called for the IDA to close the “tourism loophole,” which gave tax exemptions to storage facilities and car dealerships. At that meeting, she also said the IDA would be required to hit benchmarks, although she did not elaborate on what those would be.

Repeated efforts to reach Kearney for comment were unavailing. Richard Kessel, whom Curran nominated to the IDA’s board of directors, also could not be reached.

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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