IDA to meet soon for the last time

Members of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency went down relatively peacefully Monday after town Supervisor Sean Walter visited their meeting to deliver last rites.

A majority of the Town Board, which appoints IDA members, had informally decided to have the Town Board perform the IDA board’s function. The Town Board discussed the proposal at a public work session last week.

In the past year, the IDA has delivered tax exemptions to a number of high-profile projects in town, including the Hyatt hotel proposed by Atlantis Marine World, the Summerwind apartments on Peconic Avenue and Bowl 58 on Route 25 in Riverhead.

“I’m assuming we’re going in this direction, but I wanted to talk to you about it,” Mr. Walter said what was likely the group’s next-to-last meeting. “I personally have been soliciting for members of the IDA. I can’t find people.”

Other Town Board members also tried to find IDA members, to no avail, and a two-week advertisement seeking members drew one response, he said.

“I said this is ridiculous; we cannot continue to go this way,” Mr. Walter said.

The Town of Islip also has its Town Board act as IDA, and IDA attorney Richard Ehlers said there are no legal obstacles preventing Riverhead’s Town Board from taking on the IDA’s duties.

Having one board handle responsibilities that are now divided between two boards also would streamline the process, Mr. Walter said.

Another positive aspect of the change, the supervisor said, is that elected officials will be responsible for tax breaks given to businesses.

Mr. Walter said many people blame the Town Board anyway when the IDA grants a tax exemption to a business.

“If a decision is made and somebody has to bear the brunt, it might as well be someone you can vote out of office,” he said.

“I personally applaud and celebrate what you’re doing,” IDA chairperson Kathy Wojciechowski told Mr. Walter. But she said there needs to be better communication. The fact that the move was made public during a work session at which IDA members were not present has led to some “mocking” from the public, she said.

“The perception is that you had a board that couldn’t do the job and the Town Board had to pick up the baton and do it,” said IDA member Angela DeVito.

Mr. Walter said the decision was not directed at the IDA board members in particular, and he said he’d like the IDA members to come to the Town Board meeting when they are formally replaced so the Town Board can thank them.

“I don’t know if this is the right thing right now for the town,” said IDA member Lou Kalogeras. “A lot of people on this board want to see this town succeed, especially in downtown.”

The current IDA will have one last meeting at Town Hall on May 10 at 5 p.m., during which they will vote on a proposal for tax exemptions for developer Dee Muma’s Dark House Restaurant and duplex apartments project at 1 East Main Street.

She’s seeking property tax exemptions on improvements to the property, as well as sales tax exemptions on items used in the renovation. No one spoke at the IDA’s hearing on that proposal Monday.

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