Guest column: Time to get to work, Town Board

11/15/2013 11:00 AM |
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

The road signs are gone (mostly), the ballots have been scanned, the results have been counted and it’s time for the new/old Town Board to make plans to govern. What should its priorities be? What’s the agenda?

Everyone has their own take; here’s my crack at what I think would represent two years of good work.

Can’t we all just get along?: A Town Board that fights over issues is fine; this last board fought over nothing. You’re all going to be together for at least two years, so shake hands and put the silliness behind you. Let’s all treat each other with respect. The five of you also need to sit down soon with the major boards like planning and zoning and clue them in that they have to be more open, more sensitive and include the public at the table.

Address our quality of life: Let’s face it, some of Riverhead is getting rough around the edges. It’s not the fault of either political party, it’s a natural occurrence, trees need pruning. Yes, there are more police downtown but I can tell you by sight where those that would do harm hang out. Let’s tackle the problem, not walk by it. Grangebel Park looks nice but it needs to become family-friendly. How about a schedule of events so we push the bad guys out? The interchange at Roanoke, Peconic and Main is a mess; it needs to be addressed. We have two live theaters downtown, let’s help them put people on the street.

PSE&G takes over for LIPA. They seem to get it; let’s work with them to bury some electric lines, particularly near farm fields so we preserve beautiful vistas. Let’s quickly select a proper vendor to restore the town’s East Lawn building and Second Street firehouse. Let’s get those buildings into tax-paying private sector hands.

There seems to be consensus that a movie theater is not coming downtown. Recruit one to Route 58 and, finally, we put a man on the moon, fix the downtown dumpster problem and get security cameras up for pete’s sake.

Good government: Revisit the issue of designating Riverhead a town of the First Class; it would make for a more responsive government. And, speaking of responsive government, everyone on the board says they are for term limits, so submit and pass a bill. While we’re at it, put some teeth into our ethics code. Right now there are too many loopholes. Close them.

Slay the financial dragon: We are looking at a huge tax increase in the eye unless we bring in new revenue or cut the size of government. Do both. On the expense side of the budget, no one wants to hear about staff decreases but, whether by attrition or layoffs, we still need to further pare down the size of government. On the supply side, we passed landmark legislation that will allow us to fast-track development at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Good, now let’s get it done. 2014 must be the year we complete the subdivision at EPCAL and start to sell land at the former Grumman site. Let’s have a few large, cash-rich clients in mind so we make some land sales the first day we can. Let’s also continue the town’s lobbying efforts that proved successful at EPCAL to find state, federal and county money for infrastructure there.

Mind the gap: Riverhead town government is property rich and cash poor. 2014 or ’15 could bring a time of reckoning. Next year we may find ourselves not quite ready to sell property at EPCAL in time to avert a huge tax increase. That reality will make the pressure to make a bad deal at Grumman enormous. Riverhead can’t sell out our future because we need a payday loan. The board needs to take steps now to explore alternatives. Reach out today to find strategic partners in the private equity markets that can provide creative interim financing alternatives so we don’t have to sell out the town’s future to avoid the politically unpalatable.

As you can see, there’s much to be done and, working together, I know this board can do it. Enjoy Thanksgiving, then let’s get to work.

Anthony Coates is an investment adviser and Riverhead resident. He ran an unsuccessful primary for a Republican town council nomination in 2013.

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