09/13/14 9:00am
09/13/2014 9:00 AM
Town Board members Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, left, and Supervisor Sean Walter at last week's Town Board meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Town Board members Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, left, and Supervisor Sean Walter at last week’s Town Board meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

With details emerging on Riverhead Town’s 2015 fiscal situation — a grim one, to say the least — town political leaders will have to put their money where their mouths are as they work to close a $1.5 million budget gap(more…)

09/05/14 8:00am
09/05/2014 8:00 AM
Riverhead's court officers do not carry a firearm. The judges who serve the court believe that should change. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Riverhead’s court officers do not carry a firearm. The judges who serve the court believe that should change. (Credit: Paul Squire)

The men and women brought into Riverhead Town Justice Court throughout the year stand accused of a wide array of crimes.

While some are being arraigned on non-violent charges, others have allegedly robbed, killed, beaten and raped people — and often they’ve reportedly committed these types of crimes on more than one occasion.

Yet, unlike most towns, the exterior of the courtroom they enter is secured by court officers who do not carry guns.

So while the accused criminals are escorted into the court by armed police officers, those who meet them there — sometimes family members, other times associates or potential adversaries — are greeted by unarmed court officers.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Police Chief David Hegermiller say the cramped hallways leading into the courtroom are not conducive to arming officers. Justices Allen Smith and Richard Ehlers and assistant district attorney Tim McNulty disagree.

On this issue, we tend to side with the judges and prosecutor, who spend more time in the courtroom and are more in touch with its needs.

The argument that the corridor where guests of the court are screened is too narrow and could lead to situations in which officers have their guns removed from them is too simplistic. These are trained peace officers who already receive firearms training and, like police officers, should be trusted never to lose possession of their gun in a dangerous situation. As long as they continue to receive proper training — and additional training where necessary — this should never be an issue.

What’s perhaps most telling in this week’s cover story about the debate over arming court officers is Mr. Walter’s statement that he plans to address safety issues in the court by relocating it to the former armory building on Route 58. While Mr. Walter desperately wants to see the relocation happen, we’re not sure he has the votes to deliver. We don’t believe a transfer is any reason not to arm court officers now — unless, of course, the supervisor believes making small adjustments to improve court safety now will cost him the political capital he’ll need to get the courts relocated later.

We believe anything that can be done to make the courts safer today is in the best interest of the public Mr. Walter is elected to represent.

08/29/14 7:00am
08/29/2014 7:00 AM
An abandoned gas station on Flanders Road just east of the Peconic Avenue circle. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

An abandoned gas station on Flanders Road just east of the Peconic Avenue circle. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Peconic Avenue has a new tenant, and locals should take notice.

Renaissance Downtowns has had a sign posted in its storefront for the past couple of months, but with a community liaison now on the ground and officially hired for the job, the for-profit company can officially get to work on charting a course for the future of Riverside.

Is it frustrating — and somewhat typical — to see another plan in the works for the beleaguered community, where making progress has for far too long been on the back burner for Southampton Town and Suffolk County leaders? Yes — but as the saying goes, nothing worth having ever came easy. And area residents have before them a great opportunity with a private company that’s financially invested in gathering public feedback — and crafting a vision for Riverside based on that information. Unlike with a government study, if the plan it ultimately develops isn’t executed, Renaissance Downtowns loses private money. Its motivations are financial, not political. That gives us hope.

However, it helps that political leaders are on board and supportive of the overall effort to lift up the area.

A public meeting will be held next month on a pedestrian bridge that could connect the hamlet with a burgeoning downtown Riverhead. A study has already been completed on the feasibility of a sewer treatment plant in Riverside, and the county seems on board to contribute funds to build one. This fall, voters townwide will go to the polls to determine if the hamlet — along with neighboring Flanders and Northampton — should get what we argue is a much-needed garbage district.

The missing link to realizing a long-term vision for Riverside is a cohesive effort from residents throughout the hamlet, not just a few politicians and civic leaders. While their support is vital, what’s paramount is feedback from those living and working there — and in downtown Riverhead — who will be most affected by long-term changes. They should stop by Renaissance Downtowns’ Peconic Avenue offices, give organizers five minutes if they drop by or, better yet, attend any upcoming meetings. Business mixers and community forums are in the works. Be there and let your thoughts be known.

08/22/14 7:00am
08/22/2014 7:00 AM

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 4.14.39 PMOver the past decade, Riverhead Town leaders in current and previous administrations have dipped into financial reserves to balance town budgets. Those funds have now run out and hard decisions have to be made in order to close a looming gap of $4 million — nearly 10 percent of the town’s general fund — next year.

Borrowing against future land sales at the Enterprise Park at Calverton — a bridge loan as it’s been called — may seem an easy way out. But the risks are great and it should be avoided. The town is already unable to meet its debt obligations on one gamble it made on future revenues: the Community Preservation Fund. It must learn from its mistakes. The idea is to pay back the bridge loan after two to three years using anticipated proceeds from selling town land at EPCAL. Aside from having to pay interest, the town’s history of selling land there speaks for itself: The last sale was 11 years ago.

Until now, Supervisor Sean Walter has candidly and unabashedly touted an all-or-nothing approach in advocating for the bridge loan: Sell the land and he’ll save taxpayers from a looming, double-digit tax increase. But if land isn’t sold, town residents face a tax increase that could be twice that much — or more over time, should the town keep taking out loans.

From a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, nothing about Mr. Walter’s plan seems conservative.

But it’s the sheer lack of creativity evidenced so far in discussions about reducing the budget gap that has been most disappointing.

Up to now, no Town Board member has proposed any detailed, out-of-the-box ideas that would plug the hole — whether by cutting, consolidating or finding new revenue sources. Considering they all approved this year’s budget, the blame lies with them just as much as with Mr. Walter.

Finding a common ground between a tax increase, cuts and limited borrowing will likely be what’s best in the end. And until the Town Board finalizes this year’s budget, nothing should be off the table.

How about 3 percent (or even 2 or 1.5 percent) cuts across all town departments? Or furloughs? What would the town’s services (and pocketbook) look like if it folded its dispatching, or even its water district or police department, into the larger Suffolk County entities? Are there any permits the town can extend to two years instead of one? Can fees be increased? Surely, with these questions and so many others as a start, that $4 million deficit can be reduced.

08/16/14 10:00am
08/16/2014 10:00 AM
Teresa McCaskie, of Mattituck, called for the shut down of East Hampton airport if a solution to noise couldn't be reached. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Teresa McCaskie, of Mattituck, called for the shut down of East Hampton airport if a solution to noise couldn’t be reached. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

There’s much to love about the North Fork as a place to live and visit. Its close-knit communities, wineries and farms stands, forests, creeks and bays all quickly come to mind. Living in what sounds like a war zone isn’t on that list.  (more…)

07/31/14 11:59am
07/31/2014 11:59 AM
Army Sgt. Anthony Venetz (left) and 1st Lt. Gabriel ‘Buddy’ Gengler, who went to school together at Shoreham-Wading River High School, during a chance meeting in Baghdad. (Credit: Courtesy)

Army Sgt. Anthony Venetz (left) and 1st Lt. Gabriel ‘Buddy’ Gengler, who went to school together at Shoreham-Wading River High School, during a chance meeting in Baghdad. (Credit: Courtesy)

It’s fairly safe to say that when military personnel are deployed overseas they believe that if tragedy strikes their loved ones will be taken care of.

The U.S. Army takes many steps to ensure that life insurance policies are updated before deployment, for example. Beneficiaries are verified; the ‘i’ is dotted, the ‘t’ — like the fingers of the soldiers and their loved ones — is crossed.  (more…)

07/26/14 10:00am
07/26/2014 10:00 AM
Garbage piled high on Oak Avenue in Flanders. (Credit: barbaraellen Koch)

Garbage piled high on Oak Avenue in Flanders. (Credit: barbaraellen Koch)

Just over two years ago, we called on Southampton Town to create a garbage district in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton. And now Southampton Town is calling on residents in the area to make the decision themselves(more…)