02/09/11 4:21pm
02/09/2011 4:21 PM

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter could be replacing Babylon Supervisor Steve Ballone on the Long Island Regional Planning Council, Newsday.com reports.

Mr. Walter, serving his first term at the helm in town government, would be appointed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who reportedly has not yet filed a resolution on the matter. If confirmed by the county Legislature, Mr. Walter having a seat on the influential body could help development efforts at EPCAL.

Read full story by Rick Brand and Olivia Winslow.

12/07/10 2:11pm
12/07/2010 2:11 PM

I read with interest Democratic Party Chairman Vinny Villella’s column last week [Dec. 2] about the Riverhead budget process this year. Mr. Villella attempts to pull budget numbers out of context and patchwork them into a sinister story about how this year’s budget was adopted.  In all fairness to our Riverhead Town supervisor, Mr. Walter, and this Town Board, I found Mr. Villella’s criticism unfair and smacking a little of partisan politics. After all, I think that our former supervisor, Democrat Phil Cardinale has to accept at least some of the blame for our current situation. Of course, being the leader of a political party myself, I suppose I could be painted with the same brush, so let’s instead look at the facts.

This year, in a completely refreshing way, the Town Board was honest with taxpayers and issued a budget that did not employ one-shot tax gimmicks to cover up budget shortfalls. This Town Board did not exaggerate revenue sources with fictitious land sales, pie-in-the-sky resort plans and unrealized lawsuit settlements, as was done in the 2010 budget. This Town Board took the bold step of reducing town employees and salaries, something which takes conscience and courage to do. This Town Board, saddled with huge increases in health care benefits, insurance and the debt from Mr. Cardinale’s landfill were able to make tough choices and still reduce town spending and they did it all in an open, transparent fashion.

No one likes to see people lose their jobs, but the reality is that 75 percent of the town’s budget goes to pay salaries. What cost cutting measures would Mr. Villella or Mr. Cardinale propose to reduce spending and why didn’t either one of them do so when they were supervisor? On Jan. 1, Riverhead will be without a number of part-time employees making less than $10,000 per year yet receiving more than $18,000 in health benefits. We have reduced the overall workforce while still maintaining the same level of service to the residents.

We can attempt to put a high-gloss shine on the story but when it comes right down to it, the people spoke on Election Day and they called for reduced government spending and a reduction in the size of government. In a time where the State of New York’s pension and health care systems increased the town’s cost by $1.6 million dollars, this budget reduced overall town spending by almost $800,000.

For too long the town has operated as if it had an unlimited credit limit and we only had to pay the minimum balance. The tax increase that the town has adopted is far less than what would have been required had we continued along the same path. The bottom line is, something had to be done and Mr. Walter has shown the political courage to do it. I am proud of this Town Board for cleaning up the town’s debt. We are sowing the seeds which will reap a rich harvest for Riverhead. Stay tuned and stay positive.

Mr. Saladino is the town Conservative Party chairman and a part-time deputy town attorney.

11/01/10 12:13am
11/01/2010 12:13 AM

There will not be a hi-tech industrial park located at the Enterprise Park at Calverton — at least not one built by Rechler Equity Partners. An estimated 3,700 construction workers from across Long Island will not be anticipating 10 years worth of build-out over some 300 acres there. The promise of 7,650 permanent, local jobs is over.

The Melville-based developer sent a letter to the Riverhead Town Board Tuesday informing officials of its decision to pull the plug on the $18 million contract to buy 300 town-owned acres at EPCAL ­– laying the blame in part on town officials.

The developers cited “a sluggish economy and a Town Board that was not willing to adapt to the changing economic landscape,” as reasons for its decision.

“The town board had an opportunity to ensure the future of a more vibrant Riverhead,” the group’s president, Gregg Rechler, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, their inability to understand the economic fundamentals of a successful project forced us to withdraw our offer on this property before the Friday deadline.”

Rechler Equity Partners had until the end of this month to pay a $250,000 fee to extend its contract by six months, as Mr. Rechler had previously indicated he needed more time to decide whether to go forward with the project. But the company also wanted to amend its hi-tech park plans to include housing and retail uses, something a majority of Town Board members opposed.

“Rechler sought extensions to their agreement, a reduction in their original purchase price and proposed adding a housing component to their site plan,” Mr. Walter said. “All of these changes midstream were not good for the people of the Town of Riverhead. I welcome the opportunity to make a fresh state in our efforts to properly develop the EPCAL property.”

The town will also find out by Nov. 4 the fate of  Riverhead Resorts, the other proposed big land sale and development in Calverton, as the town has given the group until that date to pay about $4 million in contract extension fees it owes the town.

Rechler went into contract with Riverhead Town in 2007 to buy the 300 acres for $35 million. At that time the developer had planned to build a 2.7 million-square-foot hi-tech park over the course of a decade. The group estimating the project would generate 3,700 construction jobs and 7,650 permanent jobs. But in 2009, citing the economy, Rechler convinced the Town Board to drop the price to $18 million.

And earlier this year, Rechler asked Town Board members for changes in the permitted uses on the site to allow for more than 900 apartments and retail uses mixed in with light industrial uses, but a majority of Town Board members opposed those changes.

Negotiations with Rechler and Riverhead Resorts began during the prior administration of former supervisor Phil Cardinale, and both were chosen following a lengthy request for proposals process.

Mr. Walter said neither proposal would have been his first choice.

“I will push to subdivide the land at EPCAL into smaller parcels, peel back some of the resort zoning and craft a more realistic plan to bring employers, development and a tax base to the vital track of land we call EPCAL,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday.

tgannon@timesreview.com


This post was originally published Oct. 26, 2010

10/31/10 8:32pm
10/31/2010 8:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO Riverhead fire chief Nick Luparella and other firefighters urged the town to avoid cutting a fire marshal position Tuesday night.

Members of the Riverhead and neighboring fire departments turned out in force Tuesday night to urge the Riverhead Town Board not to eliminate a fire marshal position, as proposed in Supervisor Sean Walter’s tentative 2011 town budget.

Several of the six other full-time employees whose positions are slated to be cut also spoke in an attempt to save their jobs.

As with previous meetings, town Civil Service Employees Association members also showed, wearing red shirts and protesting any layoffs.

The firefighters showed up in uniform at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting and even parked several fire trucks outside Town Hall with their light flashing to protest the proposed elimination of town fire marshal Craig Zitek’s position. Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella and others pointed out that by checking that sprinklers work, pathways are clear and buildings meet codes, fire marshals often ensure that firefighters don’t get trapped in burning buildings.

“Public safety is not the area to be cutting,” Mr. Luparella told the Town Board.

Animal Control Officer Sean McCabe, site plan reviewer Theresa Masin, Juvenile Aid Bureau secretary Cheryl Behr, Community Development department program technician Liz Plouff and Mr. Zitek also made their cases as to why they believed their jobs should not be cut, as the supervisor has proposed.

Mr. McCabe noted taht he is one of only two Animal Control Officers in the town. As for Ms. Masin, she said town officials had pledged to streamline the review process when they took office, and that eliminating a planning position will do the opposite. She said applications she has reviewed that have been approved also generated about $150,000 in fees for the town. Ms. Plouff said she has been responsible for obtaining and managing grant money for the town, while Ms. Behr said her position also is vital to maintaining grants obtained by the JAB.

Councilman John Dunleavy and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio both publicly stated support for restoring the fire marshal position.

tgannon@timesreview.com


This post was originally published Oct. 20, 2010

10/13/10 6:17pm
10/13/2010 6:17 PM


VERA CHINESE PHOTO Riverhead Resorts president John Niven traveled from Scotland to attend a Town Board work session Wednesday. Councilmen George Gabrielsen and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio (right), who have voted to end the group's contract with the town, walked out of the meeting in anger.


Representatives from Riverhead Resorts, the group seeking to purchase 755 town-owned acres in Calverton, promised town officials Wednesday that on Nov. 3 they will have $3.9 million of the nearly $6 million the developers owe the town.

The representatives flew from Europe to make the promise in person, but they only fully relayed it to two Riverhead Town Board members, as councilpersons Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen, who have voted repeatedly to end the contract, walked out in anger at the meeting’s start. The sales contract between the town and the Resorts group was supposed to have been finalized May 15.

Councilman Jim Wooten was absent.

EDITORIAL: RESORTS MONEY NOT WORTH THE RISK

Mr. Gabrielsen and Ms. Giglio asked Riverhead Resorts president John Niven and Michael Simmonds, head of Solutio Finance, the company vowing to provide an initial funding package of $25 million for the project, if they were ready to write a check for the late payments that day. The men said they were not.

“I do not see a check,” Ms. Giglio said. “I think this is just another, I hate to say it, dog and pony show.”

“When you do have the money, give me a call,” Mr. Gabrielsen said before walking out.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy apologized on behalf of Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen to Mr. Niven and Mr. Simmonds, who had traveled from Scotland and England respectively to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he remained optimistic about the project since no other suitors have come forward.

“I have no doubt in my mind that you want to move forward,” he said. “We have nobody else out there.”

Morton Weber, whose law firm Weber Law Group is representing Riverhead Resorts, said another $3.9 million in late payment would be made in January. He noted the time frame for when the deal is finalized will be determined in part by when the town is able to subdivide the land, a necessary step before closing.

During the meeting, Mr. Walter requested documentation verifying that the lender had promised to finance the full amount of the project. Mr. Weber said it would be impossible due to confidentiality reasons.

“This document cannot be divulged,” he said. “This is an agreement between a lender and a borrower.”

Mr. Simmonds told Mr. Walter that on a scale of one to 10, the chances of the town having the check in-hand on Nov. 3 was a nine.

And if Riverhead Resorts does not have the $3.9 million Nov. 3?

“It’s over. It’s really over,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor had previously said he would end the contract but reversed course in Town Hall last Tuesday when a vote came up to do so; he was the deciding vote on tabling the measure.

The Riverhead Resorts group is planning to build a multi-themed resorts complex bigger than Disneyland at the Enteprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, land that was owned for decades by the U.S. Navy before it was deeded to Riverhead Town in the mid-1990s.

The Resorts group and the town have informally agreed on a lower, $108 million purchase price for the land, down from the original $155 million agreement made before the real estate market collapsed. Resorts officials had argued that declining real estate values warranted the lower price.

The Town Board had previously given Riverhead Resorts until last month to come up with the then-$3.9 million it owed or face having the contract terminated, but it missed that deadline and as per the sales contract, and now owes almost $6 million.

vchinese@timesreview.com

10/06/10 2:38pm
10/06/2010 2:38 PM

A spending decrease and a modest tax hike increase. A workforce reduction. The possibility of union concessions such as a lag payroll. Realistic revenue projections. The cutting of miscellaneous fat. Using but not depleting the surplus.

All these elements combined have made for a reasonable 2011 town budget proposal from Supervisor Sean Walter.

Town Board members should continue on the path set by the supervisor as they tweak and otherwise prepare the budget for final approval — as long as those tweaks don’t mean raising property taxes further.

The town’s well-compensated police union members, who are — and should be — attentive to the concerns of Riverhead residents — should approve a lag payroll, as the union leaders have recommended. Union members have yet to vote on the measure.

By deferring some compensation until retirement, a lag payroll would save the town $230,000 in 2011 and keep the tax rate hike under 5 percent, according to Mr. Walter. While the savings per citizen may not be much, staying below that mark could be psychologically therapeutic to Riverhead residents because it’s a clear sign that the town’s government is stable.

Keep in mind that delaying officers’ pay may not be the only sacrifice coming out of the police department next year. In his budget speech last week, Mr. Walter said he had proposed a “dramatic” decrease in police overtime as well.

He has budgeted $600,000 in police overtime for 2011, about $135,000 less than was spent in 2009. Since 2003, overtime costs have never fallen below $720,000. That is an uncertain component of the supervisors’ spending plan. Police overtime hours can always be reined in, but they often have to do with factors beyond the supervisor’s or anyone else’s control; the timing of crimes and arrests cannot be planned a year ahead of time. To rely on that anticipated savings may not be realistic.

Those reservations aside, kudos to Mr. Walter on his first spending plan. And he crafted it without any major cuts in vital services.


This post was originally published Oct. 6