2019-02-07 / Front Page

IDA donation of NARCAN revives questions by critics

by Carolyn James

IDA, fire and town officials at press conference announcing the donation of NARCAN to fire departments and first responders in Babylon.IDA, fire and town officials at press conference announcing the donation of NARCAN to fire departments and first responders in Babylon.Civic leaders and local officials who have raised questions about the role of the Babylon Industrial Development Agency (IDA) have criticized a recent move by the agency saying it shows that it has gone beyond its legislative authority.

The Babylon IDA is a public entity authorized by New York State. Its role is to promote the economic expansion and growth within the Town by offering certain financial incentives, including fast tracking applications, low-cost borrowing and real property tax reductions, sometimes over a period of decades.

Two weeks ago, the IDA held a press conference announcing that it was purchasing 840 overdose-reversal kits, or Narcan, for Babylon’s fire and emergency service departments. The vials cost the IDA $30,000, and each agency in the town got 77 vials, which officials said would last about a year.

Fire department, police and first responders are called to an increasing number of calls involving overdoses, most from opioids. In Suffolk County the number of lives saved by the use of Narcan rose from 325 in 2012 to 744 in 2017.

And also rising has been the price of the medication.

“Studies show that the price has nearly tripled over the last six years, while fire department budgets are under pressure and the opioid epidemic threatens to outpace supplies,” the IDA stated in a release.

“The Babylon IDA has put an emphasis on supporting the pillars of our community, as strong community groups help the local economy grow and thrive,” said an IDA spokesman Brendan Murphy.

Others say that while the “donation” is laudable, and first responders can save lives when they administer administer it to overdose patients, the vials should not have come from the IDA, and could be a violation of a New York State Authorities Budget Office Policy Guidance restriction. 

In January 2015, the state issued a statutory citation saying that authorities throughout the state may engage in only those activities and exercise those powers which are expressly authorized in law or which are incidental to performing their statutory purposes.

In addition, the ruling states: An industrial development agency may not, under any circumstances, award grants or make loans of it monies. The New York State Attorney General has opined that an IDA does not have the statutory power to provide grants or loans from its own funds to public or private interests.”

A spokesman for the New York State Comptroller’s office, which monitors these agencies, said it could not offer a legal opinion as to whether the expenditure of $30,000 for the Narcan was within the authority of the Babylon IDA.

“The Comptroller’s Office would comment about a specific situation in a municipality only if we conducted our own audit and gathered our own facts,” said Brian Butry, the spokesman. “Otherwise, we would be speculating.”

He added that the comptroller’s office has not previously audited the IDA “and does not have plans to at this time.”

 “It is clear to many of us that the Babylon IDA is not accountable to anyone except for filing financial reports to New York State,” said John Lisi, president of the Daniel Street Civic Association in Lindenhurst and a member of the Town of Babylon Civic Coalition. “While this certainly looks nice for the IDA, (to purchase the Narcan) it would seem to me that it is more a public relations move as they are facing lately for being the only IDA assisting developers with the financing of housing development instead of just attracting and maintaining businesses and facilitating employment.”

 

Murphy explained that the IDA officials made the purchase of the Narcan, and did not give money or a check to the fire departments for the vials, which is prohibited. “The regulation only refers to monetary loans and grants, which means the IDA cannot write a check,” he said. “This (the $30,000 in Narcan) is different because it was a gift of items; we purchased them.”

Lisi and others said they do not see the distinction.

“While this donation went toward a good cause, there is no question that it was the ‘shiny object’ meant to distract us from our concerns and criticisms of the IDA,” said Amityville Village Trustee Nick LaLota, who has publicly questioned the expanding role and authority of the IDA. 

Initially, the IDA negotiated only with industrial developers but is now working with commercial property owners and developers, and more recently with those developing residential properties.

In Lindenhurst, for example, the IDA approved a 30-year Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) plan for the Tritec project on Hoffman Avenue, which calls for 260 apartments on 7.41 acres. The savings in taxes over the 30 years is designed to make the project fiscally viable as it also improves the community’s economic prosperity, say supporters.

Under the deal, the developer will pay $354,141 in PILOTS over 30 years, instead of the $1.3 it would have had to pay without a PILOT agreement. In addition, they will give the Village $564,000 in building fees, an additional impact fee of $764,000 paid over ten years and a one time business improvement district fee of $33,000.

The school district, however, will not get any additional tax monies in the form of fees or other payments to help make up for the loss, and according to Lindenhurst School officials the markedly reduced annual tax payments are not enough to cover the cost of educating the children who will be attending their schools. That money will have to be made up by every other local taxpayer in the district, they said.

At the meeting at which that PILOT plan for Lindenhurst was approved Valerie McKenna, a trustee with the Lindenhurst School District, said the community “is not being told the truth” about the impact of the development on the school district.

In Amityville Village, officials there have urged the IDA to include local representation on their board because the decisions they are making often have a negative financial impact on their tax base. They maintain that local taxing entities such as schools and villages are forced into accepting these tax reductions but have little or no input into them.

The IDA did recently include school and village representatives to their meetings, but they have no voting power.

“The fact is that residents and other property owners have to pay more while these developers get tremendous tax breaks, and if the public truly understood what was happening, I don’t believe they would endorse it," said LaLota.

The Babylon IDA’s funding comes from fees and services it offers the developer throughout the process. In 2018, it operated with $1.49 million, a decrease from 2017 when it operated with $1.8 million. Its expenses include salaries and wages, benefits, professional services and supplies. In 2018, it had a surplus of $93,000 over expenditures, according to its financial report online, according to its online documents.

 

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