Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said he hoped to avoid suing the county and town in his fight to have the village receive its “fair share” of sales tax revenue.
“My intent was, in filing the notice of claim, maybe they’ll come to the table and resolve this before we start spending money on litigation,” Kennedy said in an interview. “Litigation is going to cost everyone money. If I have to litigate, I will, although I prefer to negotiate some type of settlement prior to going into litigation.”
But with neither responding to a notice of claim filed by the village June 1, Freeport officials said a court battle appears to be imminent. Village Attorney Howard Colton said while the town has held some discussions with Freeport leaders, the county has remained silent on the issue.
“The county has gone into a litigation posture,” Village Attorney Howard Colton said. “They’ve gone into bunker mode where they’re not going to have a discussion.”
Freeport generates about $15.8 million per year in state sales taxes, $6.2 million of which is sent back to Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead. The village this year only received $119,000 from the town — it got $0 last year, according to Colton. “We’re eating breadcrumbs and everyone else is eating steak,” he said.
Freeport’s June 1 filing claims its due $2.5 million in tax revenue under state law. And they’re not alone — 62 of Nassau County’s 64 villages have signed a petition asking for a change in the amount of money distributed to the municipalities.
Many of the villages also send millions of dollars to the state, and receive a small percentage of that back from the town. The county and town received $3.5 million in revenue generated by Rockville Centre — the village got $66,749 in return.
Colton said some villages have come to him and asked to join in on the possible legal action. Once those villages receive approval from their board of trustees to become part of the action, the village will file an amended notice of claim before going “right into litigation,” Colton said.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, and her Republican challenger Jack Martins, of Mineola, promised during a debate last year that they would ensure villages received their “fair share” of tax revenue.
But only weeks into her first term, Curran reportedly had a change of heart.
“I will be frank and honest with you … if it were in my discretion I would not be paying this out,” Curran said at a February meeting of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, according to a published report. “It is not at my discretion now and I will follow the law, but this is an example of how we need to tighten our belt and a place where we could have potentially tightened our belt.”
A county spokeswoman declined to comment. Town Press Secretary Mike Fricchione said in an emailed statement, “The Town of Hempstead is fully compliant with the current state tax law.”
Kennedy told the Herald he would use the $2.5 million to lower Freeporters’ sanitation bill, which is about $500 per year.
“I’d be able to reduce the mandated increases we have every year,” he said. “Any additional funds like this would help reduce the burden on the residents.”