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Culinary school and college point fingers over PILOT bill, fines

Riverhead Town officials say the owner of the downtown building occupied by Suffolk Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center owes more than $242,528 in unpaid fines and payments in lieu of taxes to the town and the Riverhead School District, going back to 2008.

As a result, the Town Board voted last Wednesday to authorize litigation to recover that money. 

The culinary center was created by building owner Ron Parr in 2004 under the name Culinary Arts Riverhead LLC,  and in 2007 the LLC and Mr. Parr received a Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency incentive package that reduced the amount of property taxes due on the building. 

But Mr. Parr says it’s the college, not him, that’s responsible for paying the PILOT. 

“There’s a lease agreement and a compliance agreement that says they have to pay the PILOT and the property taxes,” Mr. Parr said in an interview Tuesday. 

The college maintains that while it is responsible for paying property taxes, which it has done, Mr. Parr is responsible for the PILOT payments, according to college spokesman Drew Biondo. 

“That’s stated in the PILOT agreement,” Mr. Biondo said.

Mr. Parr said the PILOT wasn’t in place until two years after the building was constructed, and the college sought the PILOT as a way to reduce costs. He said he signed the PILOT agreement only because the property owner’s signature is required.

However, he said, the PILOT agreement is superseded by the lease and the compliance agreement with the IDA. 

Current annual taxes on the property are $18,850, according to Tax Receiver Laurie Zaneski’s office. Without the IDA incentives, annual taxes would be in $126,241. 

But the town’s claim concerns nonpayment of the annual PILOT, not property taxes, which Ms. Zaneski said have been paid and are not in arrears.  

For tax years 2008-09 through 2016-17, the town is owed PILOTS amounting to $76,215 and the Riverhead School District and library are owed $166,312, according to town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

Those totals include penalties for late payment. 

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Photo caption: The Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts building in Riverhead is caught in the middle of dispute over who should make payments in lieu of taxes on the property. (Tim Gannon photo)