I read with interest Democratic Party Chairman Vinny Villella’s column last week [Dec. 2] about the Riverhead budget process this year. Mr. Villella attempts to pull budget numbers out of context and patchwork them into a sinister story about how this year’s budget was adopted. In all fairness to our Riverhead Town supervisor, Mr. Walter, and this Town Board, I found Mr. Villella’s criticism unfair and smacking a little of partisan politics. After all, I think that our former supervisor, Democrat Phil Cardinale has to accept at least some of the blame for our current situation. Of course, being the leader of a political party myself, I suppose I could be painted with the same brush, so let’s instead look at the facts.
This year, in a completely refreshing way, the Town Board was honest with taxpayers and issued a budget that did not employ one-shot tax gimmicks to cover up budget shortfalls. This Town Board did not exaggerate revenue sources with fictitious land sales, pie-in-the-sky resort plans and unrealized lawsuit settlements, as was done in the 2010 budget. This Town Board took the bold step of reducing town employees and salaries, something which takes conscience and courage to do. This Town Board, saddled with huge increases in health care benefits, insurance and the debt from Mr. Cardinale’s landfill were able to make tough choices and still reduce town spending and they did it all in an open, transparent fashion.
No one likes to see people lose their jobs, but the reality is that 75 percent of the town’s budget goes to pay salaries. What cost cutting measures would Mr. Villella or Mr. Cardinale propose to reduce spending and why didn’t either one of them do so when they were supervisor? On Jan. 1, Riverhead will be without a number of part-time employees making less than $10,000 per year yet receiving more than $18,000 in health benefits. We have reduced the overall workforce while still maintaining the same level of service to the residents.
We can attempt to put a high-gloss shine on the story but when it comes right down to it, the people spoke on Election Day and they called for reduced government spending and a reduction in the size of government. In a time where the State of New York’s pension and health care systems increased the town’s cost by $1.6 million dollars, this budget reduced overall town spending by almost $800,000.
For too long the town has operated as if it had an unlimited credit limit and we only had to pay the minimum balance. The tax increase that the town has adopted is far less than what would have been required had we continued along the same path. The bottom line is, something had to be done and Mr. Walter has shown the political courage to do it. I am proud of this Town Board for cleaning up the town’s debt. We are sowing the seeds which will reap a rich harvest for Riverhead. Stay tuned and stay positive.
Mr. Saladino is the town Conservative Party chairman and a part-time deputy town attorney.