05/31/15 7:00am
05/31/2015 7:00 AM

Suffolk County’s capital budget for 2016-18 contains $1 billion for projects countywide, with more than half planned to be spent in 2016. Yet funding for the county’s most economically distressed community — factoring in employment levels, median household income, housing values, etc. — was on the chopping block for a scary amount of time. (more…)

05/14/15 8:00am
05/14/2015 8:00 AM

Police1_BE_R

We don’t need another robbery or a similar incident possibly related to gang activity as evidence that downtown Riverhead has a problem with crime. It has plagued the area for years, and it’s worth noting that, unfortunately, downtown Riverhead is not the only place in Suffolk County that could use, for lack of a better phrase, some cleaning up. It’s also worth admitting that crime can never be completely eliminated there or anywhere else.

(more…)

12/05/14 6:00am
12/05/2014 6:00 AM
East Street in Jamesport, a private road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

East Street in Jamesport, a private road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

Town Board members say they plan to unveil a list later this month that will outline which private roads in Riverhead Town will get minimal highway services and which won’t receive any.

It makes sense to get the list together before the first storm of the season hits, but there’s a glaring hole in their plan: They have no system in place on how to accurately poll the residents who live on these roads in order to figure out who wants the town’s help and who does not. (more…)

11/07/14 11:00am
11/07/2014 11:00 AM

 

Congressman-elect Lee Zeldin addresses his supporters at the Suffolk County GOP gala at Emporium in Patchogue Tuesday. (Credit: John Griffin)

Congressman-elect Lee Zeldin addresses his supporters at the Suffolk County GOP gala at Emporium in Patchogue Tuesday. (Credit: John Griffin)

“Every election is like a job interview,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator from Kentucky and likely Senate majority leader, said in his acceptance speech Tuesday. This year, Democrats weren’t hired for lots of jobs.

Notably for East Enders, Lee Zeldin knocked off six-term incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop in the 1st Congressional District race. (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.

08/22/14 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.