Figuring Out The IDA’s Tax Breaks

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Comptroller initiates audit of agency, fulfilling campaign promise

At a Feb. 13 press conference, Comptroller Jack Schnirman discussed the audit of the IDA. At right is Kim Brandeau, his deputy comptroller, who will lead a team of auditors. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

On the first day of his tenure, Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman began the process of fulfilling a campaign pledge: an audit of the county’s oft-criticized Industrial Development Agency (IDA).

His office submitted an official entrance letter to the IDA on Friday, Feb. 9. According to a press release, “The audit will evaluate finances and revenue; examine internal financial controls and governance; verify compliance; and review the project assessment process, future projects, and new business concepts.”

Schnirman said the review will cover the years 2015 through 2017.

“IDAs are intended to be job-creating economic engines,” Schnirman said. “This isn’t meant to be an adversarial process. An audit can help the IDA identify areas of weakness and develop substantive solutions to get better returns moving forward.”

In 2011, Schnirman’s predecessor, George Maragos, undertook the last financial examination of the IDA.

During a Feb. 13 press conference at the Office of the Comptroller, Deputy Controller Kim Brandeau noted that in the previous audit, one of the findings was that the IDA wasn’t doing an independent cost-benefit analysis.

In addition, the 2011 audit “reported that the IDA lacked many proper controls, guidelines, and procedures. This new audit will follow-up on those previous findings to determine if issues have been correctly remedied.”

“What specifically are you going to be measuring and what will be your starting point for determining success?” Schnirman was asked.

He replied, “Jobs created. Jobs retained. Additional tax revenues added to the tax rolls. I think those are some of the measures we’ll be looking at. [Also,] we’ll be looking at how [the IDA is] measuring success.”

Schnirman brought up the familiar criticism of the agency giving breaks to auto dealers and self-storage facilities, dubious job-creating entities.

“There’s been a lot of questions about whether the IDA is creating the level of local jobs that is necessary and is warranted by the investments that they’ve made. There’s been a lot of questions around whether there’s real follow-up with projects and asking, ‘Are we creating the kind of jobs and meeting the metrics that the tax abatements called for?’ Those are things we’ll be looking at.”

Asked how the IDA might react—or even if it would follow—his department’s recommendations, Schnirman replied, “We’ll just see what we can find and…recommend. And then let that drive the discussion of the next steps and how that gets effectuated. A lot of the folks who raised some of the questions are legislators. We’ll provide them the information and recommendations and will let the facts speak for themselves. We’ll let what we find dictate the discussion that we have on the other end of the audit.”

“A goal we all share is real economic development that creates or retains jobs, that grows our tax base so that we can keep taxes down overall,” Schnirman said.

Nassau County IDA Executive Director Joseph Kearney did not return an emailed request for comment.

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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