No matter what questions were being asked at Thursday’s debate in Jamesport, it seemed the Riverhead Town supervisor candidates couldn’t resist taking shots at each other.
All three candidates for Town of Riverhead supervisor —incumbent Sean Walter, Republican nominee and Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Democratic challenger Anthony Coates — gathered at the Jamesport Meeting House for the second of two debates hosted by the Jamesport – South Jamesport Civic Association.
And unlike the Riverhead Town Board debate, which was largely civil, this debate often included pointed criticism, with candidates using each others’ debate time to critique previous answers and further prove their own points.
The criticisms didn’t solely come from the candidates, however. Moderator Larry Simms posed questions that frequently cited previous Town Board actions, such as the Costco tree clearing scandal or a lack of enforcement of existing town rental fee codes. Two questions each were addressed to individual candidates and five questions were posed to the group as a whole.
Here’s what each candidate had to say, in their own words:
On Mr. Coates’ investment firm, its recent financial activity and its clients:
Anthony Coates: Well, I wouldn’t name clients, but I’m a registered member of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the body that registers investment advisors. My license is held by New York Life. I’m funded, I’m licensed, I’m an investment advisor and a New York State registered insurance broker.
On a potential Giglio proposal for fiscal change and how she’ll be able to get a majority to approve future budgets:
Jodi Giglio: In answer to the first question, I have been fiscally prudent and fiscally responsible as far as voting on resolutions, voting on spending, voting on replacing positions totaling well over $5 million accumatively over the last six year’s that I’ve been on the Town Board … When it comes to two colleagues voting on a budget, I can only put forth ideas on how to cut government and when I was cutting government it was for big positions, for top positions, and they equated to almost $600,000.
On why voters should believe Mr. Walter’s promises will come true:
Sean Walter: When we came into office the budget was about 12 percent out of whack. $5.5 to $5.7 million of revenue we were not receiving that we were spending and using the reserve … There’s three ways to fix it. You can save your way out of the budget, you can tax your way out of the budget or you can grow your way out of the budget. We decided to do all three … I am proud to say that at this point, with this budget, it is 100 percent balanced and there is not a person in the room that is going to change that.
On Ms. Giglio’s party promoting calm leadership, but her husband questioning the motives and attacking the character of those who challenge her:
JG: You know what, I love my husband to death and no matter how many times I tell him to stay off the blogs he’s very passionate … he knows how much hard work I put into this and when people come out with rhetoric and lies against me he gets very angry and so I asked him to stay off the blogs, I think he’s been doing a great job … He’s very supportive of me.
On Mr. Walter allegedly acting unilaterally in the past, recently regarding a landfill lawsuit:
SW: First of all, that’s not accurate … It would be impossible for me to unilaterally act. That lawsuit was settled with a resolution of the town board, so the premise of your question is flawed …
On Mr. Coates “burning bridges” with local politicians and how he’ll earn his fellow board members’ trust:
AC: I don’t understand the premise, what have I done to burn bridges? If you mean that I’ve been in a position politically to fight for what I believe in regardless of who it bothers, you’re right … If I have any burnt bridges it’s probably because I’ve taken a tough stance on a lot of issues … It’s when you’re not getting things done that that really matters.
On changing the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) appointments and agency’s mission:
AC: If I were the town supervisor I would immediately meet with the IDA board and declare a mission statement. I don’t think they have a good direction from the town. The town has said the tax break would be for downtown and only downtown but somehow they’ve popped up all around town. No businesses on Route 58 should get a tax break.
JG: In your question you said that the IDA cost the taxpayers millions of dollars throughout town. The IDA does not cost the taxpayers any money. What the IDA does is defer the tax payment for 10 years and it goes down as the years go on … Without those incentives businesses will take their developments elsewhere. There are only three properties on Route 58 that have received tax breaks.
SW: It’s not many millions of dollars in tax breaks … If you take everything that the 21st Century Oncology and everything that was added to the Hilton Garden Inn and the Holiday Inn Express, it’s not millions of dollars. Councilwoman Giglio is 100 percent correct … Every two years you can replace the IDA members with members if you choose to. But I’ll be honest with you folks, it is a necessary evil.
AC: I disagree with both of them. I think it’s something that’s been very abused. I don’t think it’s created the amount of jobs it advertised … I think there was a time on Route 58 when we had to give things away but I think that time has long passed.
JG: People are starting out with a lower assessment … It’s not going on the back of the taxpayers. They’re just not paying the increase on the taxes for a period of time. That’s to incentivize them to come and to clean up areas in downtown for example … We’ve done a great job as a board of encouraging business downtown.
SW: You know what folks, that’s my responsibility … what you need to worry about is that I deliver your tax bill in a manner that you can afford to pay. Over the last five years … your tax bill went up $30.
On how the Town was not informed a new type of crude oil was being stored in Northville, and what specific steps will be taken to eliminate more surprises:
JG: I’m very disappointed too in the state agencies. They should have reported to the town that crude oil was going to be coming in … I have a letter drafted to our state representatives saying that if the status of a facility such as this is going to change that the town board needs to be advised and I’d like it in state legislation so we find out about it before it happens.
SW: It’s completely unacceptable that this happened and this is why the fire marshals go out on a regular basis and inspect these facilities … This is a failure of the State of New York … We will take the appropriate response.
AC: The introduction of this to Northville is a game changing event … They want to exchange this oil down a pipeline going across farm fields and our water table to EPCAL … [I’m] completely dead-set against it.
JG: We are proactive because our fire marshals go up there on an annual basis and they inspect … I think we should be looking into that also, testing the tanks and seeing what’s in the tanks.
SW: United Riverhead Terminals has clearly not become a good neighbor to Riverhead. So we will have conversations with the fire marshall and we will be having regular inspections … my guess is we’ll probably step their inspections up to once a month.
On code enforcement for hotel and motel rental laws and how the town can decide to enforce some laws and not others:
SW: It’s the dumbest thing we have in the code … What this code was meant to do was, if you look at the legislative intent, was to go to the county social service facilities that are operating in motels … We have to amend the code.
AC: Where but Riverhead would you have the town supervisor and the leader of the code committee saying to you, “This is how we interpret the law.” People feel there are special favors for special friends in this town. You apply the law equally, enough of these constant special permits.
JG: I’m a member of the code committee and we address letters from the public … people see something wrong with the code they contact the code committee, we put it on the agenda, we discuss it and we either draft legislation or we say we’re doing anything with it … I am the one that imposed an increase in rental permit fees and it affects my building. I’m going to pay twice as much.
SW: I spoke to council members on the board at the time and that was never the intent. The intent was always your Section 8 hotels, your halfway houses, your sober homes … The hotels are inspected by the fire marshall and the Suffolk County health department on a annual basis … The other homes are not on inspected on a regular basis.
AC: I don’t think in the government you can leave it to ‘my interpretation is this.’ The law is the law.
JG: I’m going to eliminate a position in my office and hire another code enforcer. We have two code enforcers from 8:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. That doesn’t work.
On if they would be okay with limiting campaigns to public forums and media coverage rather than raising private funds:
AC: I’m the little guy no one gives a dime to so I’m all in favor of that … The mother of all bad deals is the Suffolk County [Police Benevolent Association] … You can’t tell me that we’re smart to make a decision at the bayonetted point of all that special interest money.
JG: Suffolk County PBA put a lot of money into this campaign because they don’t like Sean Walter … They know I have no intention of converting Riverhead PD to Suffolk County PD. I love our PD … You can’t buy my vote … I think that it’s important to get our message out and I think that costs a lot of money, so I would say no.
SW: You described utopia and if you could deliver utopia I would agree …Here’s the bottom line and here’s why it doesn’t work … There’s nobody sitting in this room that can believe that [the Suffolk County PBA] spent $125,000 conservatively speaking to get my opponent elected, you couldn’t possibly believe there’s not strings attached.
On tree clearing at Costco and the lack of accountability:
JG: That never came to the Town Board, that went to the Planning Board … There was a mistake that was made on the drawing and there was a mistake by the planning board to let them clear. What we did was we then put in place public hearings for all site plans where the public could weigh in.
SW: Larry, you’re wrong with the basic premise again … It’s our fault. We issued an excavation permit. We screwed that up … The reality is we changed three major things … you can no longer get excavation permits until you get building permits … we amended the setback … we got rid of one of the biggest problems in the planning department.
AC: It’s the Riverhead two-step … It’s who’s fault is this? Where is the follow through? … Here there seems to be no accountability for your actions. That’s wrong.
JG: The planning board makes a lot of recommendations to the town board … the town board might have to consider taking those site plans over again.
SW: It’s my fault. I screwed up. I voted for it … The government screws up sometimes … It shouldn’t happen again.
AC: The answer is follow the code … The answer is get things done.
On the Town Board allegedly making decisions without doing enough prior research:
SW: I love you Larry, I really do, but again you’re way off base … The year round occupancy rate averages closes to 70 [percent] in this town … And the year round occupancy rate for New York State is around 58 percent … There is a need for the hotels, so I don’t know why you’re saying there isn’t.
AC: I’ll use the farm bill as an example …We all know there’s dangerous farms with people running around in high traffic … Our failure to plan and enact legislation and then later on hope we’re going to fix it is legendary here … It should be more of a coordinated effort.
JG: Right now, all along Main Road you can get a farm stand on a one-acre lot. We changed that. We made it that you have to have two acres minimum to have a farm stand. I think we did a good thing … Forty percent could be brought in from anywhere in the world — China — before this legislation was adopted. Now they can only bring in 40 percent materials from 250 miles.
SW: The occupancy rate is very high in this town. It’s high in this town because we went from the little town that couldn’t to the little town that oh my goodness I can’t believe they’re prospering … I will say our provision and Southold’s provision [of the farm bill] are a violation of the commerce clause of the United States.
AC: Why does the town attorney’s office have to go back and revisit that? Because poor planning … We don’t all work together in this town.
JG: This is good when we have high occupancy rates and when we have more hotels and we have more people that want to come to Riverhead because it will bring more commerce and it will bring more jobs.
SW: When we took office it was just article after article that [Riverhead] was the ‘Little Town that Couldn’t’ … You never, ever hear that anymore. What did you hear today? We’re growing; everybody wants to be here … This town has gotten better in the last six years. It’s not time to change horses … We’ve accomplished our goals … But we need to finish what we started. I’d like to see a couple years of flush budgets that start to build the tax reserve up. I want to see Luminati and the parent company take roots here. I want to see the Gallo project finished. When those things are done it’ll be time to change horses.
AC: I’m running because I want this town to be better. What’s in the record the last six years? We’re the most-indebted, highest-taxed, lowest-bond-rated town. Property values are rising all around us but falling here … I think it’s been a lot more about complaining and a lot less about solutions … I’m tired of us being in last place. We should be first. The Town needs a fresh start.
JG: You care about the town, as I do … We have several issues when I’m walking around talking to taxpayers: their taxes, quality of life and also the EPCAL subdivision. With EPCAL we need a leader who can bring people together … in order to provide services to the taxpayers without raising taxes. We need someone who cares about the quality of life issues and can create the much needed jobs … I will not support a budget that is asking the taxpayers to dig in their pocket for another five percent.