11/02/13 8:00am
11/02/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

TOWN COUNCIL
Four-year term, part time
Salary: $48,955

John Dunleavy
Incumbent
Hamlet: Calverton
Occupation: Retired police officer
Party lines: Republican, Conservative

About him: Mr. Dunleavy, 72, is running for a third four-year term as a town councilman. He is a U.S. Navy veteran and former Grumman Corporation employee who later joined the Riverhead Police Department, where he came to head the juvenile aid bureau for 15 years before retiring in 1988. He then worked in banking until 2007. Mr. Dunleavy was first elected councilman in 2006. He was born in Brooklyn and lived in Rockaway, Queens, before his family moved to East Islip. He joined the Navy in 1957.

His pitch: Mr. Dunleavy says he’s helped bring $8 million into town coffers, a number that includes $7.5 million in down payments for the Riverhead Resorts project that never happened. He helped negotiate a cell tower contract that has brought in $300,000 in fees and has saved $250,000 in salaries and benefits by heading the municipal garage, he says. He also lists two police dogs and an ATV obtained through the DA’s office, as well as a natural gas vehicle donated for senior use, as items he’s helped bring to the town at no cost.

In his words: “These are some of the examples of the work I’ve done and will continue to do if re-elected.”

 

Jodi Giglio
Incumbent
Hamlet: Baiting Hollow
Occupation: Owner of Bennett Enterprises
Party lines: Republican, Independence

About her: Ms. Giglio, 45, is running for her second four-year term as a town councilwoman. She has a business background, which includes relocating corporate executives for United Van Lines and serving as an on-site construction superintendent for a Long Island townhouse project. She owns and runs Bennett Enterprises, which assists landowners with residential and commercial applications. Ms. Giglio was born in Syosset and grew up in Wantagh and California before moving back to New York at age 19.

Her pitch: Ms. Giglio says she’s made good on several promises to the taxpayer since first running for office in 2009. Among them, she says, she’s looked out for how tax dollars are being spent while finding innovative ways to improve on quality of life in town. As a businessperson, she says her work and expertise in Town Hall are instrumental in identifying problems within the town code that can stifle businesses and job creation.

In her words: “I know that with your support, I will have even more to offer our great town.”

 

Bill Bianchi
Challenger
Hamlet: Riverhead
Occupation: Owner of Bianchi-Davis Greenhouses
Party lines: Democrat, Independence, Working Families

About him: Mr. Bianchi, 82, is a former Bellport resident who served as a state assemblyman from 1972 to 1994. He got started in public service as a South Country School District Board of Education member and president. He then was part of a lawsuit that effectively ended the county’s Board of Supervisors in favor of a Legislature. He’s worked continually in the orchid business and co-owns orchid greenhouses off Doctors Path.

His pitch: Mr. Bianchi touts his experience in the Assembly, during which time he said it was necessary to work with both parties, and believes he can bring a certain depth of knowledge and government experience to Riverhead Town. Mr. Bianchi says he is most proud of legislation he got passed in Albany that preserves the county’s four major rivers. He was also chairman of the Assembly’s agricultural and local government committees and a member of its ways and means committee.

In his words: “I always worked well with both parties.”

 

Millie Thomas
Challenger
Hamlet: Baiting Hollow
Occupation: Owner of Landmark Realty
Party lines: Democrat, Working Families

About her: Ms. Thomas, 63, has been a licensed realtor for 21 years. She owns Landmark Realty as well as a commercial building in Wading River. She is a past president of the Long Island Board of Realtors/North Shore Chapter and secretary of the Wading River-Shoreham Chamber of Commerce. She currently has 31 agents and two administrative assistants working for her company. She was born in Brooklyn and moved to Rocky Point in 1978. She moved to Baiting Hollow in 2002.

Her pitch: Ms. Thomas points to her success in navigating her real estate business through the recent economic downtown as proof she would be a good steward of the town’s finances. She says her business in Wading River not only stayed afloat but thrived during one of the worst housing markets in years. She knows how to squeeze a budget, she says, and will be fiscally responsible and accountable to taxpayers. She favors well-planned development but wants to work protect the area’s way of life.

In her words: “We should fight for revenue from large commercial developers who take from our town and should give back. We also need to make Riverhead a safer, better place through increased code enforcement.”

Read our endorsements for town council here

11/02/13 7:59am
Town council candidates Jodi Giglio and Millie Thomas

Town council candidates Jodi Giglio and Millie Thomas

The job of Town Council member is described as part-time, but it takes hard work and dedication for candidates to make good on those oft-repeated campaign promises to keep the town’s taxes in check while “preserving our way of life.” It takes not only time but also guts and the ability to learn all the technical aspects of what makes town government work — in order to help it work better.

Jodi Giglio and Millie Thomas have just the type of skills to be highly effective Town Council people.

Profiles: Meet the candidates for town council

Ms. Giglio, a Republican incumbent, already has four years’ experience under her belt and has proven her ability to understand the inner workings of town government. She’s also helped keep fellow GOP member and political rival Supervisor Sean Walter in check — especially in voting against Mr. Walter’s plan to hire his own political adviser, Anthony Coates, for a made-up job in 2012.

In addition, she has spearheaded an attempt to lure the Federal Aviation Administration to the town’s EPCAL site, despite pushback from the supervisor.

But as she made clear in her first run in 2009, Ms. Giglio is “business- friendly.” By trade, she is a permit expediter for developers. This could prove beneficial when it comes to recognizing when developers are trying to play the town. But when developers do exactly that — and they have; one has only to look to the Costco site along Route 58 for a recent example — one can’t help but wonder: Where was Jodi? But she makes no apologies about land-use rights, to the point that it’s hard to even imagine her as someone who will truly fight to make sure developers give back to the town just as much as they take from it.

Enter Ms. Thomas. Her résumé, like Ms. Giglio’s, includes “business owner,” but her civic involvement and the priorities of the town’s Democratic slate in general — neighborhood preservation through strict adherence to the town code — may serve to counterbalance Ms. Giglio’s business-friendly approach.

Ms. Thomas’ ability to navigate one of the worst economic downturns in the real estate market while maintaining her business, Landmark Realty, is impressive. A former president of the Long Island Board of Realtors, she said at a debate co-sponsored by the News-Review that her firm handled $27 million worth of sales last year, ranking in the top 10 percent in Suffolk County.

It’s a shame Ms. Thomas wasn’t more vocal in touting her achievements out on the campaign trail. Unlike her fellow candidates, she failed to start a campaign fund or raise any money. While many politicians often say they’re “not a politician,” to explain away what would appear to be a lack of true dedication, with Ms. Thomas, it’s believable. Aside from her business, she’s been involved in numerous charitable endeavors, taught religious classes for a dozen years through St. Anthony’s Church in Rocky Point and has dedicated time and knowledge to the Long Island Board of Realtors, serving it as director, secretary and vice president. No one could ever accuse her of being lazy. Given her track record, there’s no reason to believe she wouldn’t bring the requisite level of dedication to improving town government.

As for Republican incumbent John Dunleavy, he should be credited for his public service to the town as a police offer and for eight years as a councilman. But he’s been too comfortable for too long maintaining a superficial knowledge of how the town works. He’s too apt to take people coming to the Town Board at their word, without the appropriate level of skepticism and research.

He’s recently said he doesn’t know how to read site plans but, after eight years in office, what’s the excuse? With respect to the clearing of vegetation to make way for the Costco, Mr. Dunleavy said early in last week’s council debates that he “did not know they were going to clear-cut the whole shopping center.”

Yet in November 2011, the News-Review ran the first of several news stories explaining that developers intended to do exactly that at the 42-acre site. The story’s headline read: “Costco plans shrink; land clearing doesn’t.”

Here’s an excerpt from that story: “The new layout presented to the town shows the northern quarter of the site — closest to the senior complex — unoccupied by buildings or other infrastructure, but it also shows this area being entirely cleared of the trees currently there, then revegetated with landscaping.”

Even if Mr. Dunleavy can’t read site plans, he can read the newspaper. His job as a Town Board member is to stay on top of issues for his constituents, and maintaining a thorough base of knowledge about issues of such importance reigns paramount.

We think it’s time he moves on.

Back on the Democratic side of the ticket, council candidate Bill Bianchi would bring 22 years’ experience as a state assemblyman to Town Hall, but he’s been unable to articulate in any detail his accomplishments in state office or exactly how that experience would translate into his Town Council work. He has said he knows how to work across party lines, but it seems that fighting within political parties poses more of a challenge for Riverhead. Mr. Bianchi’s experience in Albany, we imagine, could prove useful as the town continues to work with the state on the effort to redevelop the EPCAL land — but, so far, Mr. Walter, state Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele seem to be moving along just fine. Introducing a new personality coming out of Town Hall could disrupt that chemistry.

10/26/13 5:23pm
10/26/2013 5:23 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

Riverhead Town council candidates, Republican incumbents John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio and Democratic challengers Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas, took the stage on Thursday night at the Suffolk Theater for a debate co-sponsored by the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLocal.

(supervisor debate video)

The four answered questions about downtown, Enterprise Park at Calverton, Route 58 and more, even getting the chance to ask each other questions during the debate.

Check out their responses by clicking here or below.

board2 from Carrie Miller on Vimeo.

10/25/13 12:42pm
10/25/2013 12:42 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

The gloves came off in the final debates between candidates for Riverhead Town Board Thursday night, with Democrats in general criticizing the incumbent Republicans for the clear-cutting at the Shops at Riverhead site, and Republicans accusing Democrats of not offering any solutions.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Dunleavy, Millie Thomas, Jodi Giglio and Bill Bianchi.

The candidates also jumped on one another with plenty of direct criticism and sprited, and at times raucous,back-and-forth exchanges.

The debate, called “Riverhead at a Crossroads,” was sponsored by Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLocal and held at the Suffolk Theatre.

The debate was divided into two segments, one with the council candidates — Republican incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy and Democratic challengers Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas — and one between the supervisor candidates, Republican incumbent Sean Walter and Democratic challenger Angela DeVito. Questions were asked by Michael White, News-Review editor, and Denise Civiletti, RiverheadLocal publisher, rather than from the audience.

WATCH SUPERVISOR DEBATE VIDEO CLIPS

Mr. Dunleavy was up first, and was asked whether it was a mistake to allow the clear-cutting of vegetation at the Costco/Shops at Riverhead development on Rout 58. The land clearing there infuriated residents in Foxwood Village, where Mr. Dunleavy lives, and Millbrook Community, a mobile home park east of the development.

At a previous debate, Mr. Dunleavy blamed a Foxwood Village resident who voluntarily monitored the development at Planning Board meetings for not knowing what he was doing. This time, he apologized to the people at Foxwood Village, and said there was no one to blame.

“I didn’t know they were going to clear-cut the whole shopping center,” Mr. Dunleavy said. But he added that the evergreen buffer the developer is required to build will fix the problem.

But Mr. Bianchi specified Mr. Dunleavy for criticism on several occasions.

“He’s saying everything is great, when his own supervisor is saying we are headed for financial disaster. Maybe the problem is [the current board members] don’t know what’s going on,” Mr. Bianchi said. “We have some council people who are not even here in the winter, they are in Florida,” he said.

“If you’re not going to be at the meetings, then resign from the board,” Mr. Bianchi said.

“I didn’t miss a meeting,” Mr. Dunleavy said, referring to his spending a month in Florida two years ago. “I flew back here for every Town Board meeting.”

Mr. Bianchi pointed out that Mr. Dunleavy missed a meeting on Oct. 16, when Mr. Dunleavy was on a cruise to celebrate his anniversary and his wife’s birthday.

“I’m allowed to take a vacation,” Mr. Dunleavy responded, indicating he took two weeks off this year.

Later in the debate, Mr. Dunleavy brought up the issue of property Mr. Bianchi owned in Patchogue where the state claims a Bianchi family-owned operation there contaminated the soil with pesticides in a greenhouse business.

The property is listed as a state Superfund site.

“I wasn’t going to bring this up,” Mr. Dunleavy said, even though he was waiving documents about it in his hand.

He said he mentioned the Superfund site because Mr. Bianchi was being negative.

Mr. Bianchi said his family owned that land until the early 1990s and a pesticide used to kill termites was legal when they applied it, but it was later was made illegal by the state due to its affects on groundwater.

Candidates also battled on financial issues. Republicans said they have cut spending, and that when the Enterprise Park at Calverton is subdivided, they will be able to derive revenue from land sales there, which will stave off tax increases.

Democrats said that while the EPCAL fast track bill has been approved and the subdivision is nearing completion, the EPCAL buildout is still expected to take more than 10 years and the town will still need to spend more than $20 million on infrastructure and sewer improvements at EPCAL.

With town reserve funds set to run out in the next two years, there still is no guaranteed revenue for the next two years to stave off a potentially big tax increase that Mr. Walter and town auditors have warned about, Ms. DeVito said.

She repeatedly said the town should petition the county for a portion of the county-collected sales tax, since a chunk of it comes from Riverhead stores.

“I mentioned that to [County Executive] Steve Bellone and he laughed,” Mr. Walter said. “There’s no way the county is going to allow that. The county’s entire budget is balanced on the sale tax.”

“Saying you talked to Steve Bellone and ‘he said this,’ that’s not a final answer,” Ms. DeVito said. “You have to pursue it a little more.”

Ms. DeVito was critical of Mr. Walter’s statement that the town might have to borrow against the land at EPCAL to borrow money to lower tax increases. She asked him how he would raise revenue in the next two years to avoid a giant tax hike.

Mr. Walter said that is the most difficult question facing the town now. He agreed that mortgaging land at EPCAL “is probably the worst thing we could do, but it might buy us time.”

The supervisor has said the town could face a 20 percent tax increase in the future if it has no reserves to offset spending.

Another proposal the supervisor suggested was working with Governor Andrew Cuomo to find an “equity partner” who would provide financing for construction projects, and would get a piece of whatever profit it derived from sales at EPCAL.

Mr. Walter said that despite the public bickering and fighting among the all-Republican Town Board members, they are still “getting the job done.”

He said the board has helped bring new businesses to downtown, including the Suffolk Theatre, and proposed the legislation signed by the governor on Thursday designed to fast track development proposals at EPCAL.

Mr. Walter also questioned Ms. DeVito’s level of commitment, saying she “quit” the Riverhead school board.

Ms. DeVito answered that she stepped down from that board after three years in part because her mother — for whom she had been caring for — had been slowly dying during that time, and Ms. DeVito felt she was no longer “functional.”

Had something similar happened when she was town supervisor, she said, “I would step down again…rather than filling space for the sake of filling space.”

Mr. Walter later said there are many pressures involved in being supervisor, and he watched his own mother slowly die while he was in office in 2012.

“Being supervisor takes a toll,” Mr. Walter said. “2011 to 2012 was probably the worst year of my life.”

Ms. DeVito said she’s dealt with stressful issues while in leadership positions in the past, including the death of a child, and had not stepped down.

On the issue of downtown, Ms. DeVito said there are still issues with drug dealing and prostitution, and despite all the efforts, it’s still not a place to bring families.

“Angela, you talk a good game but you just said nothing,” Mr. Walter responded. “Main Street has more police presence that any area in town.”

He said when he took office, the Casa Rica restaurant was still open and was the scene of a number of violent incidents. He said it took his administration six months to get it closed, but they eventually got it closed.

Ms. DeVito at one point accused the supervisor of making fun of her, and said his answers to questions were cavalier and sarcastic. Mr. Walter said he wasn’t making fun of her — that he just had better answers — and was sorry she felt that way.

The supervisor said that during Ms. DeVitos’s tenure on the Riverhead School Board, the district spent two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation, and also proposed a $120 million bond that was rejected by voters.

Ms. DeVito countered that the school board instituted a spending cap when she was on it.

Ms. Thomas touted her experience owning a Real Estate business in Wading River and she was able to get that business through the crisis of the economic downtown without laying off any employees.

Among some of the specific questions asked of candidates, on the question of whether site plan authority should be taken away from the Planning Board and given back to the Town Board, which had that authority prior to 2006, only Mr. Bianchi said he favored doing so, among the council candidates.

“They are doing a great job other than one slight mistake,” Mr. Dunleavy said of the Planning Board, and in reference to the clear-cutting at the Costco site.

The supervisor candidates were not asked that question.

As for whether the town should update its entire master plan, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Bianchi both said it should be “tweaked” but not overhauled.

Mr. Dunleavy said he would want to get feedback from the public on that issue and Ms. Giglio said she thinks the 2003 master plan is “working very well” now, and has greatly reduced the maximum possible population of the town.

Ms. Thomas said the town is “broke” and needs to find grants or other revenue sources to offset spending. She said EPCAL has infrastructure problems that will be very costly. On the Costco site, she said the incumbents “totally dropped the ball,” and she believes the Town Board should have more interaction with the Planning Board on proposals. The current Town Board is “pro-development,” she said.

“This Town Board is very pro-active in listening to the community,” Ms. Giglio responded. It adopted new rules to require public hearings on commercial site plan applications, which was never done in the past, and is now requiring 50-foot buffers between homes and large commercial developments. She said the Town Board cannot “impose its will” on the Planning Board.

Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Giglio frequently said their opponents identify problems but give no solutions.

Ms. Giglo was asked about her failure to get building permits and certificates of occupancies for expansions on her own home for several years and said she now has those permits, and is willing to pay the additional taxes she wasn’t assessed for on these additions over that years, a figure she estimates at about $10,000.

“It was a big mistake,” she said of not getting the permits. “I put it on the back burner and forgot about it” while attending to business and town matters.

In their closing statements, Mr. Dunleavy said he was on the board that negotiated a contract with Riverhead Resorts that brought the town $7.5 million, even though the land was never sold or developed, and that he has also negotiated cell tower leases that have brought revenue to the town.

Ms. Thomas said she’s a business person and not a politician and noted she’s been in leadership positions with the Long Island Board of Realtors.

Ms. Giglio said she has been mindful of taxpayers and has found innovative ways to help taxpayers, such as by calling for the rebidding of the town garbage collection contract, which saved $2 million, as the board liaison on garbage issues.

Mr. Bianchi, who was a state assemblyman for 22 years when he lived in the Bellport area, said it was necessary to work with both parties in that role and the same is true in the town. He again criticized Mr. Dunleavy, this time for leaving a press conference in Wading River earlier this year because the Democratic candidates were there.

“I’ve never in my life heard anything like that before,” Mr. Bianchi said.

Mr. Dunleavy did not get a change to respond to that, but in an interview on WRIV radio the next morning, he called the debate a “John Dunleavy bashing” session and described Mr. Bianchi as “nasty.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/24/13 6:45pm
10/24/2013 6:45 PM
Suffolk Theater in Riverhead

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The historic Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead.

The News-Review reported live from tonight’s political debates between six candidates seeking three open seats on the Riverhead Town Board, including the supervisor seat.

The first debate featured incumbent Republican Town council candidates John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio against Democratic council challengers Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas. That was followed by incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter facing off against Democratic challenger Angela DeVito.

Click below to follow a recap:

10/23/13 3:00pm
10/23/2013 3:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Suffolk Theater on East Main Street will be the site for another round of political debates Oct. 24.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Suffolk Theater on East Main Street will be the site for another round of political debates Oct. 24.

The Riverhead News-Review and Riverheadlocal.com media outlets are getting set to host their second night of town political debates Thursday at the Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead.

The debates start at 7 p.m. and run until about 9 p.m. The theater’s doors open at 5 p.m. and the bar and restaurant will be open at that time, but shut down during the debates.

There will be two separate debates Thursday, with the first featuring incumbent Republican Town council Candidates John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio against Democratic council challengers Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas. That will be followed by incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter facing off against Democratic challenger Angela DeVito.

There are three Town Board positions up for grabs in the at-large election Nov. 5, the supervisor seat and two council seats.

The debates will be co-moderated by Riverheadlocal editor and publisher Denise Civiletti and News-Review editor Michael White.

The first political debate event was held Aug. 26 and featured Republican, Democratic and Independence primary candidates for town council and town supervisor. More than 200 people crowded the Suffolk Theater for that event.

“After the success of primary debate, we’re now even more excited to co-host this event featuring the six general election candidates,” said Times/Review Newsgroup executive editor Grant Parpan. “The professional staff at the Suffolk Theater did a great job in setting the stage and I know a lot of people in town are looking forward to this next round of debates, as are we.”

“These debates give the public the opportunity to learn where the candidates stand on important local issues,” Ms. Civiletti said. “We’re happy to partner again with the News-Review to sponsor the debates. An informed electorate is at the very heart of the democratic process.”

All questions for the debates will be written in advance by the two moderators and the candidates will be given time to make closing statements. There will be no questions from the floor. No outside video recording of the event is allowed.

There is a suggested $5 donation at the door, with all proceeds going to support the nonprofit New Beginnings’ effort to build the Brendan House facility on Sound Avenue, which will provide 24-hour care for young adults with brain injuries.

The first debate event raised $1,045 for Brendan House.

10/22/13 5:56pm
10/22/2013 5:56 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito (center) and other Democratic town candidates and supporters at the Costo site Tuesday morning.

COURTESY PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito (center) and other Democratic town candidates and supporters at the Costo site Tuesday morning.

A week after the Democratic candidates for Riverhead Town Board held a press conference criticizing the incumbent Republican board members on downtown issues, they held a press conference criticizing the Republicans over Route 58 issues.

Democrats Angela DeVito, Millie Thomas and Bill Bianchi called development on Route 58 “an economic, environmental and quality-of-life disaster,” and said the road should be renamed Sean Walter Way, after the incumbent supervisor, who is being challenged by Ms. DeVito.

The press conference was held outside Millbrook Community, a manufactured home park off Mill Road that abuts the Shops at Riverhead development, which will have a Costco Wholesale as its anchor store. The Shops at Riverhead developers were allowed by the town to clear-cut 41 acres right up to the property lines of the neighboring Millbook and Foxwood Village communities.

“Riverhead is the poorest town on the East End, with the highest debt and the taxes that just keep going up year after year,” Ms. DeVito said. “With this amount of commercial development, you’d think there would be a sufficient tax base to prevent the huge tax hike Walter now threatens. Mismanagement has become Walter’s ‘way of doing business.”

“Didn’t they already have this press conference?” Mr. Walter later responded in an interview, noting the Democratic candidates protested the Shops at Riverhead development just three weeks ago, joining neighoring residents for a rally.

Mr. Walter pointed out that just last week the Town Board adopted a code amendment that will fix the problems at The Shops at Riverhead by requiring a 50-foot natural buffer be planted between the development and neighboring homes. And, he said, the town’s budget problems were caused by the previous Democratic administration, during which a landfill reclamation project failed. The town is still paying more than $4 million per year in debt service from that project.

The Shops at Riverhead site plan, which called for the clear cutting of all vegetation, was approved by the town Planning Board last year, but the actual clearing permit was issued by the Town Board.

“I think the majority of the residents are going to be happy with the size and the scope of the berm,” Mr. Walter said. “The issue is over.”

In addition to Mr. Walter, the Republicans are running incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy for council.

Mr. Walter said “there’s obviously things that happened that the town has had to correct,” concerning the clear cutting. “We saw the problem, we corrected the problem, and now it’s time to move forward. It appears to me that Ms. DeVito really has nothing to say, and now she just keeps saying the same thing over and over.”

Ms. DeVito said she believes there’s “clear evidence that Riverhead residents are fed up with Sean Walter and his cronies. Last year he lost his bid for election to the Suffolk County Legislature [to Al Krupski] by a two-to-one margin.

“He didn’t even win his home district of Wading River.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/10/13 4:30pm
10/10/2013 4:30 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, left and challenger Angela DeVito with moderator Sid Bail.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, left and challenger Angela DeVito with moderator Sid Bail.

When it came to issues like town finances, Route 58 planning, Town Board bickering, and redevelopment downtown and at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Republican incumbents largely saw the glass half full at a candidates forum held in Calverton Wednesday night.

The Democratic challengers? Well, they saw the glass half empty.

The Greater Calverton Civic Association and the Wading River Civic Association sponsored the event at the Riley Avenue school in Calverton. Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association served as moderator.

Incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter and council members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio are being opposed by Democratic supervisor challenger Angela DeVito and council candidates Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas.

Mr. Dunleavy was not present, due to a previously planned vacation.

Here’s what the rest of the candidates had to say about the issues:

TOWN FINANCES 

Mr. Walter said that when he took office four years ago, the town’s annual audits were many years behind. The town was bonding items that should have been funded by the general fund, it had no budget for road paving, and taxes were rising due to the debt associated with a failed landfill reclamation project, which has accounted for more than $4 million in debt service each year, he said.

Since then, he said the town has drastically cut its spending, the audits are caught up and the town is closing in on a plan to be able to sell land at EPCAL, which he feels will provide tax relief in the future.

“The revenue streams are trending in the right direction,” he said.

But Ms. DeVito said the town has been offsetting taxes with the use of about $3 million in surplus funds each year, and that money is close to running out.

She pointed out that a recent audit states that unless the town gets a big infusion of money by 2014, this approach “will result in a catastrophic tax increase in the next few years,” she said.

Mr. Walter said the landfill debt, which was accumulated by the previous administration, is the main reason for the town’s tax increases.

Ms. Thomas disagreed with the supervisor’s assessment of town financing.

“As far as I know, the town’s broke,” she said, adding that while downtown is improving it still needs to be revitalized.

Ms. Giglio says she’s saved the town $2 million by insisting that its garbage contract be put out to bid, and she initiated a phone audit that gained the town $75,000.

EPCAL

Ms. DeVito and the Democratic candidates said that while the EPCAL subdivision is close to happening, the redevelopment of EPCAL won’t bring the town any money until the land is actually sold.

“EPCAL still is pie in the sky until that first shovel goes in the ground,” Ms. DeVito said. “It could still blow up in our faces.”

Mr. Bianchi said he believes the town still needs to upgrade the sewer system and infrastructure at EPCAL, which could cost $40 million, and he says the industrial park at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton already has infrastructure and still hasn’t attracted many businesses.

Mr. Walter said he’s confident the lots at EPCAL will sell once the subdivision is approved. He said the town doesn’t need to sell all of the lots at once, since selling one or two per year will provide enough revenue to offset tax increases.

The state legislature has approved a proposal for development applications at EPCAL to be fast-tracked, so long as they meet criteria spelled out in the legislation, said Mr. Walter, who added that no other municipality in the state has such legislation.

But Ms. DeVito pointed out that the EPCAL legislation has not yet been signed into law by the governor.

TOWN BOARD BICKERING

Mr. Walter said people have criticized the all-Republican board for its infighting, but “the proof is in the pudding.” He said EPCAL, downtown and the town finances are improving under the current board, despite the fighting. The supervisor said that when Ms. Giglio first suggested trying to lure the Federal Aviation Administration’s new air traffic control center to EPCAL, he opposed it, but he says now it could be a reality.

“Don’t worry about us fighting,” he said. “It makes for good TV.”

Ms. DeVito said she’s heard from many people who don’t participate in government because “they are made to feel unwelcome and they don’t like the environment.”

Ms. Giglio, also said the board does fight a lot, but that they are a “spirited board” whose members come from diverse backgrounds. She said the board communicates with each other, debates issues and compromises.

ROUTE 58

The current condition of Route 58, where four large commercial projects have resulted in hundreds of acres of trees being cleared, was a topic where the Republicans acknowledged there were mistakes made, but vowed to correct them.

Democrats went on the attack.

“Route 58 looks like a war zone,” said Mr. Bianchi, who served 22 years in the state Assembly when he lived in Bellport. “It looks like Saudi Arabia, just a sea of sand.”

He said residents in Foxwood Village found their lives “partially destroyed” by the clearing near their homes.

“How anyone on the Town Board can allow that to happen boggles the mind,” Mr. Bianchi said. “Do you think East Hampton or Southampton would allow that to happen?”

Ms. Thomas said the town doesn’t need all the big box stores on Route 58, which are providing “minimum wage jobs” and not even increasing as much taxes as they should.

Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio both argued that Route 58 does generate a lot of taxes for the town, and people’s tax bills would be a lot higher without that money.

Ms. DeVito said Route 58 stores are a major source of income tax revenue for Suffolk County, and the town doesn’t get any of that money. She feels the town should fight to get a bigger share of the income tax revenue it generates.

The town generates about $30 million in income tax revenue for the county, Mr. Walter said. But he feels it would be “pie in the sky” to think the county would give up that money.

As for the recent clearing on Route 58, the supervisor said the town Planning Board made a mistake and will fix it. But he said those boards are autonomous, and the Town Board can talk to them, but can’t tell them what to do.

tgannon@timesreview.com