The Village of Freeport announced that it will distribute a $2.7 million tax rebate to property owners on Oct. 13, due to a collaborative effort by Mayor Robert Kennedy, State Senator John Brooks and Assemblywomen Judy Griffin and Taylor Darling.
“During the Covid pandemic, we’ve all suffered terrible losses,” Kennedy said. “So there’s no better time to reimburse our property owners with the money they need.”
“We’re all in dire straits and living in uncertain times, so I’m sure this will be welcomed in Freeport,” added Darling.
The rebate came after the village had to increase property taxes by about 5 percent in its 2020-21 budget, the first such tax increase in seven years, because of the state’s new criminal discovery law.
Kennedy explained that the new regulations in the criminal discovery law would have caused overtime payments at the village’s court, police department and building department to skyrocket, forcing him to raise taxes to accommodate the new costs.
Before the new criminal discovery law, the Freeport Police Department would only send about 50 discovery packages to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office a year. That includes video packages, phone records, notes, witness accounts and any other type of evidence.
The new law would have mandated that the police department send discovery packages for every arrest made, which was at about 1,150 last year. The village would also have to send the discovery packages for building violations, moving violations and parking violations.
It would also have had less than 15 days to do so in every case, which would have created the need for an overwhelming abundance of overtime work to adhere to the new regulations. The village would have also had to hire additional prosecutors, judges and clerical workers to process all the new discovery requests.
Kennedy decried the law and began working to modify it as the president of the New York Conference of Mayors with the help of Brooks, Griffin, Darling and Village Attorney Howard Colton in June 2019.
After months of work, the three state officials were then able to negotiate the changes in the state’s budget, which passed in April.
Among the most significant changes was the extension of the deadline to hand over discovery packages, which is now set to 30 days, which local officials said is much more manageable.
Brooks explained that because Freeport prepares its budget earlier than most municipalities, it would have been impacted by the criminal discovery law costs before the modifications were put in place to avoid them. He touted Kennedy’s foresight to include the costs in the budget so that the village could receive an accurate rebate.
“This is how government is supposed to work,” Brooks said. “Mayor Kennedy was able to identify the costs to the village and budget them accordingly, and after working together to reform the criminal discovery law, the village is able to get its money back.”
“Our efforts paid off, and we were able to modify the law to not burden Freeport,” Griffin added.
The village is currently working on assessing every property owner’s taxes to figure out how much everyone should get back.
“Legally, the village can’t keep the money,” Kennedy said, “but our budget is fine. “Our residents certainly need it more than we do.”
Kennedy will introduce five resolutions at the next village board of trustees meeting, on Oct. 22, to begin the refund process.
Kennedy said that once the resolutions are passed, it would take around two weeks for property owners to start getting their refund checks through the mail.