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Riverhead IDA meetings will now be televised

Riverhead Industrial Development Agency meetings will now be televised.

The meetings will be shown live on channel 22 on Cablevision, and also on the Riverhead Town web site, where they can be viewed afterward on demand.

The first meeting to be videoed was Monday, and it probably won’t draw a lot of demand, since it was over in a half-hour and was relatively uneventful.

Still, the IDA has been criticized in the past by some residents who feel it has given away tax incentives that were too high and that the agency lacks accountability.

The IDA can give partial property tax abatements, as well as exemptions on county mortgage recording tax and on sales tax used in the construction of a project as an incentive to lure companies to the town.

“This is part of our transparency,” IDA chairman Tom Cruso said of the videos. “We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to see what we do.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the idea of televising IDA meeting came up at a meeting the Town Board had with IDA members in January.

Monday’s IDA meeting was shown live on video

“We’re trying to make Town Hall as transparent as possible,” she said Monday. “Part of that was to televise IDA meetings, so we’re very happy it’s now going to be available for the public to see.

“Now we televise the Town Board, the Town Board work sessions, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the IDA. Really, all the boards that meet now will be on channel 22,” she said.

• Statewide report on IDAs

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released his annual performance report on the state’s IDA’s last week.

The report covered all active IDA projects through the end of 2016, and found that there were $715 million in IDA tax exemptions statewide that year, a three percent increase from 2015.

There were 109 active IDAs in New York State in 2016, the report said, and they accounted for 208,707 new jobs through 2016.

The job creation figure refers to the amount created over the life of a project that was still receiving IDA benefits in 2016, rather than the amount of jobs created in just that year.

There are five IDA’s in Suffolk County and three in Nassau County, and, combined, they accounted for 51,632 new jobs through 812 projects that received IDA benefits through 2016.

The Riverhead IDA, the only one on the East End, although projects on the East End can avail themselves to the Suffolk County IDA, created 984 jobs through 33 active projects in 2016, the report stated.

Tracy Stark, the executive director of the Riverhead IDA, said those numbers reflect well on the Riverhead IDA, “but the jury is still out on how the state does the calculations.”

Statewide, IDA’s are required to file a Public Authorities Reporting Information System (PARIS) report showing things like how many jobs are created and how much of a tax abatement was given.

The town IDA only gives tax abatements to the school, town, county and fire district taxes, and other forms of property taxes, such as water district or sewer district, do not receive them.

Despite this, the PARIS reports don’t reflect those restrictions Ms. Stark said, which gives the appearance that the town is allowing a much great property tax abatement than it actually is.

“To me, it’s not a complete picture,” she said, adding that the method in which the PARIS reports full time and part time employees at a particular business is also suspect.

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Photo: The Riverhead Industrial Development Agency at its meeting Monday (Credit: Tim Gannon)