10/21/13 7:00am
10/21/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The F-14 on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton.

The F-14 and A-6E fighter jets on loan from the U.S. Navy and on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton will receive much-needed repairs this week, Riverhead Town officials have announced.

After concerns raised by Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighting the planes’ deteriorating condition, the town is partnering with Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City to make the proper repairs.

“I wish to express my utmost appreciation to the Cradle of Aviation Museum for providing the volunteer labor necessary to provide the necessary facelift to the F-14 and A-6 Navy aircraft,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement. “This memorial recognizes the significant efforts that Grumman employees played in the history of both the Town of Riverhead and the entire United States of America. I am thrilled that we are able to keep the park open in a pristine manner that is deserving of those who served our country.”

Volunteers, many of them Grumman retirees, will provide their services free of charge for the cleanup. The Town will supply the paint and other materials, such as ladders, a power washer and a bucket truck.

The work on both the F-14 and A-6 aircraft is scheduled to take place Friday.

cmurray@timesreview.com 

10/11/13 7:00am
10/11/2013 7:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Board members (on right) get briefed on the town’s 2012 financial audits last Thursday.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Board members (on right) get briefed on the town’s 2012 financial audits last Thursday.

While Riverhead Town officials are primarily concerned with overcoming a deficit in the town’s general fund next year – which will be closed with $3.5 million in reserves – they say a deficit in the Community Preservation Fund looms even larger.

Auditors contracted by the town, along with members of the town’s independent audit committee, found that about $19 million remains in the CPF, according to findings presented at last Thursday’s Town Board work session.

The CPF, approved by referendum among East End voters in 1999, taxes real estate transfers to set aside funds for land preservation purchases.

In the early 2000s, town leaders started borrowing against future CPF revenues to buy open land before an anticipated rise in real estate values. But the real estate market then stalled, and revenues to pay off the debt have not come in as expected, leaving an annual shortfall of nearly $4 million. The town owes about $6 million each year to pay down the principal and interest on money borrowed for the land purchases.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the real estate market has to improve, or else.

“In 2018, if things don’t turn around … we’d run out of money [in the CPF],” he said in an interview. “The picture’s not very bright.”

While a deficit remains in the CPF fund, the real estate market does seem to be rebounding, suggested by this year’s rising CPF revenues, according to numbers provided by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

Riverhead has brought in $1.62 million through August, an increase of 45 percent over last year’s $1.11 million. Across the entire East End, CPF funds are up to $58.5 million, up from $39.2 million in 2012.

Despite the improvement, Mr. Walter described the CPF debt as a “structural deficit problem.”

“They ran the town like it was a giant credit card,” Mr. Walter said, referring to the previous administration under Democrat Phil Cardinale. “Here’s the key: they never went to anybody … to determine if the revenue would ever support the amount financed.”

Since the town’s CPF debt far exceeds the amount of CPF money taken in, Mr. Walter predicted the town will have to start using general fund money to refill the CPF funding in 2019. The town will then have to use reserves from its general fund for eight years, until the CPF is expected to bring back in enough to pay its debt, he said.

Though Mr. Walter blamed the Cardinale administration for the bleak outlook, Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said the town “did the CPF right.”

Mr. Amper said the town hasn’t received the funding they expected from taxes due to the recession, adding the town accomplished what it set out to do by preserving land and preventing over-development.

“The likelihood that the town will have to underwrite the cost of payment from the general fund is slim to none,” Mr. Amper said, noting he last calculated his figures in 2010.

psquire@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

09/30/13 11:22am
09/30/2013 11:22 AM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO |  Supervisor Sean Walter during Monday's presentation.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter during Monday’s presentation.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter pitched a 2014 budget proposal Monday that would increase the town tax levy — the total amount of money collected from taxpayers — by 2.5 percent and see spending rise by 3 percent.

The town’s tax increase would come in under the state’s mandated 2 percent cap on year-to-year tax levy increases, Mr. Walter said, since some expenses are exempt from the law.

The budget proposal borrows $3.5 million from the town’s fund balance, leaving a balance of a little over $3 million. The town has also created a separate revenue stream from the $2 million it received from leasing town space in Calverton to a car auction company following superstorm Sandy. That money is being parceled out at $550,000 a year for four years, starting in Mr. Walter’s tentative town budget for 2014.

Mr. Walter emphasized that the town, while still needing to use surplus money, is “headed in the right direction.

“It took a long time to steer this ship around through some treacherous waters here but things are looking up,” he said during Monday’s public slide show presentation in Town Hall.

The combination of cutting government expenses, refinancing debt and refraining from taking on much more debt has kept the town from completely raiding its reserves, he said, pointing to a chart showing that before he took office in January 2010, the town was trending in a direction that would have completely depleted the fund balance.

“Had we not done the things we did this town would be facing a 20 percent tax increase for this year,” he said.

The town has been using the fund balance, or surplus funds, to offset tax increases for at least a decade, with much of those surpluses coming from land sales or contracts for land sales at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Since 2010, the town has appropriated fund balance amounts of $4.7 million in 2010, $2.6 million in 2011, $2.6 million in 2012 and $3.08 million in 2013 toward reducing the tax rate.

The reason for the additional use of surplus funds for 2014 stems from a state comptroller’s audit in March that faulted the way the town used administrative charge-backs from other departments to fund its general fund. Because of accounting changes in response to the audit, the general fund is just under $1 million short in revenue, according to Mr. Walter.

And, he noted, debt to pay off the town’s landfill reclamation and capping project comes in at about $4 million for next year.

“I don’t want to keep beating the landfill debt drum but the residents have to understand why we’re tapping the general fund balance the way we are,” he said, noting the landfill debt doesn’t drop significantly until 2023, when it falls to about $1 million annually.

In the meantime, Mr. Walter said, to bring in more revenue the town should be able to start selling land at EPCAL, which would help restock the reserves in time for the 2015 budget and in the years ahead until the landfill debt drops.

The town is currently seeking to subdivide and sell some 600 acres at EPCAL, the site of a former naval weapons plant facility.

But what if the land isn’t ready for sale next year?

“Do I have a contingency plan? Absolutely,” Mr. Walter later told a reporter, explaining that the town, if needed, could borrow money at low rates using EPCAL property as collateral.

“Would I wallop the town with a 20 percent increase? Not if I can help it,” he said. “There is a Plan B. Once the EPCAL land is subdivided, we’re sitting on $60 million to $100 million worth of equity. I think we’ll be able to mortgage property at very, very favorable rates. So we would have to borrow on the land.”

He also said at the presentation that there has been great interest in the town land at the enterprise park.

“The residents are going to be pleasantly surprised at the types of businesses that want to come into EPCAL,” he said.

The tentative 2014 budget also includes money for anticipated contractual agreements with the town’s two largest employee unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Police Benevolent Association, both of which are in negotiations for their 2014 contracts, Mr. Walter said.

He said revenues from fees and mortgage taxes have been trending upward as well – though they still fall short of revenues realized before the recent recession.

Since Mr. Walter and the current Town Board took office in 2010, the total town spending, including special taxing districts like the Business Improvement District, ambulance district and two sewer districts, has decreased by $463,765, and is currently at $89.03 million, according to town records. The 2014 proposal would total spending to $91.9 million.

Also since 2010, the so-called town-wide budget — which includes general fund, highway and street lighting, the three districts every property owner in town pays into — has increased by 4.6 percent and is currently at $53.06 million, according to town records. Due in part to declines in revenue, the town-wide tax rate has increased by 9.9 percent during that period, Mr. Walter said. The town-wide budget comes in at $54.5 million in the supervisor’s tentative 2014 budget, a 3.02 percent increase.

Under Mr. Walter’s proposal, the owner of a house worth about $350,000 would see about a $60 tax increase due to spending increases in the general fund, which includes police services; highway; and lighting districts, according to officials.

Proposed spending in the town’s general fund alone comes in at $46.3 million in the tentative budget.

The supervisor’s full budget proposal was made available online and at Town Hall Monday afternoon. The Town Board will now consider the proposed budget and could suggest changes before a public hearing is held— though no Town Board members expressed great concern with the budget outline as it was presented.

Mr. Walter, a Republican, is running for a third two-year term this November. His Democratic rival, Angela DeVito, was at the Town Hall presentation and expressed disappointment the full budget, with department heads outlining how the budget would affect their particular town services wasn’t available for review.

She called the presentation a campaign event.

“All we got was his campaign slogan,” she said. “I’m very disappointed, to tell you the truth. Did you see a budget? I didn’t.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

09/28/13 10:00am
09/28/2013 10:00 AM
Sean Walter speech

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter delivering his annual ‘State of the Town’ speech this year in Calverton.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is scheduled to unveil his tentative 2014 town budget in a 10 a.m. presentation at Town Hall Monday.

And, the supervisor said in an interview this week, he plans to use more than the $3.1 million in fund balance that was used last year to offset tax increases.

The reason for the additional use of surplus funds stems from a state comptroller’s audit of the town in March that faulted the way the town used administrative chargebacks from other departments to fund its general fund.

Changes to the chargebacks usage left the town general fund just under $1 million short in revenue. And though the budget proposes borrowing more than $3.1 million used in the current year’s budget, it won’t be a full $1 million more, Mr. Walter said.

“I don’t have the final number, but we were about $1 million behind from the audit on chargebacks,” he said.

The town has been using the fund balance, or surplus funds, to offset tax increases in its budget for at least a decade, with much of that money coming from land sales or contracts for land sales at the Enterprise Park in Calverton.

The town has appropriated fund balance amounts of $4.7 million in 2010, $2.6 million in 2011, $2.6 million in 2012, and $3.08 million in 2013 toward reducing the tax rate.

The tentative 2014 budget also will have to include a number to represent anticipated contractual agreements with the town’s two largest employee unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Police Benevolent Association, both of who are in negotiations for their 2014 contracts, Mr. Walter said.

During that same time, the so-called “town-wide” budget – which includes general fund, highway and street lighting, the three districts every property owner in town pays into – has increased by 4.6 percent, and is currently at $53.06 million, according to town records.

Mr. Walter wouldn’t disclose the proposed tax rate increase in his upcoming budget, but said it has to comply with the state’s two-percent tax cap.

That cap applies to tax levies, rather than tax rates, and includes some exemptions.

Since Mr. Walter and the current Town Board took office in January 2010, the “town-wide” budget , which includes general fund, highway and street lighting, the districts every property owner in town pays into , has increased by 4.6 percent, and is currently at $53.06 million, town records show.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/22/13 5:30pm
09/22/2013 5:30 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is flanked by Jeff and Christine McKay is celebrating the opening of their new venture, Vines & Hops, in downtown Riverhead Sunday.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is flanked by Jeff and Christine McKay is celebrating the opening of their new venture, Vines & Hops, in downtown Riverhead Sunday.

A new business opened up in downtown Riverhead this weekend.

Vines & Hops is a collaboration between a married couple — a strength and conditioning coach and a physical therapist — who are changing course to sell wine, beer, coffee and Artisan foods.

Jeff McKay of Jamesport is the strength and conditioning coach and massage therapist, and his wife, Christine, is the physical therapist.

“I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” Jeff said in explaining his new venture. “I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I just said, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ So I basically just reinvented myself. People were saying ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this.’”

They are.

The McKays hosted a ribbon cutting at the newly opened Vines & Hops, which is located in a storefront on Main Street across from the former Woolworth building.

“We started this whole process back in the spring,” Jeff said. “I think it was in March, we had looked around at a couple of places in Jamesport, and they fell through, which we’re kind of happy about now. Then one day, I told my wife I was going to call around and see what’s available on Main Street. I had gotten in touch with Ike Israel of Richmond Realty and when he told me what they wanted for this, I almost fell off the couch. Back in the 90s, this storefront would have been triple what we’re paying now.”

The McKays quickly went about working on the lease and getting a liquor license. Given the choice of taking their time and opening in the middle of winter or rushing to open at the end of summer, the McKays chose now.

“We’re looking to have entertainment after the Holidays,” Mr. McKay said. “Just an acoustic guitar on weekends. And next year, since the drive-through next door is part of this property, we are looking to do an outdoor beer garden, which will also have wine. And the whole brick facade is going to be a continuous waterfall.”

Vines & Hops has two large-screen televisions on the wall, wi-fi available for computer users and a number of couches for patrons to sit on.

The menu has buttermilk dough slider rolls from Goodale Farms in Aquebogue, filled with flank steak or Buffalo chicken;  empanadas with spinach- and goat cheese-filled pocket crusts and other Artisan small plate and dessert bar menu items.

And they have locally made craft beers and wines from the likes of Long Ireland, which is based in Riverhead, Southampton Public House, Pindar, based in Peconic and others. They also sell various specialty coffees and teas, such as latte, cappuccino, and espresso.

Mr. McKay said he’s happy to be a part of downtown Riverhead’s renovation.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the site Sunday, concurred.

“I am so happy you’re taking a chance on us, because we will do everything at our disposal to make you a success,” Mr. Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/03/13 10:00am
08/03/2013 10:00 AM
The proposed sign at The All-Star, which would have featured a large bowling ball and pin on top.

The proposed sign at The All-Star, which would have featured a large bowling ball and pin on top.

To the Editor:

I read in total disbelief in the News-Review the problems the owners of The All-Star bowling center are having over a sign including a bowling ball and pin. Their planned sign is one foot over the 15-foot limit? The square footage is more than allowed, including the air space when the town boxed in the sign? Are you kidding me? Here is a business that is giving the residents of our area wholesome recreational activity in a bright, clean, new and exciting environment.

Some members of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition are urging the Zoning Board of Appeals not to approve the variance for this sign, and their vice president, Phil Barbato, stated that this area is “becoming Jericho Turnpike all over again. It is creeping east.” Where in the heck has he been? It has already crept east years ago. Starting with the late Joe Janoski and right up until Sean Walter, each supervisor has made sure that all the variances and zoning changes that these major shopping centers needed were approved.

The nature and peacefulness of Riverhead has been desecrated already. I had the opportunity to be in the Foxwood Village community several weeks ago and I was totally appalled at the view between the homes in the community to the clear-cut land behind them for Walmart and whatever else is going in there. Not one tree left standing. I did see this before, but from the view of Route 58, and I was actually sickened by the leveling of the land. Did any one of these developers need a variance? Of course all you have to do is look across the street and see more land cleared for more stores. Of course there also is the clear-cutting of the northeast corner of Northville Turnpike and Route 58 for an office building. Will this ruination ever end?

Several weeks ago in the News-Review, Mr. Walter said something to the effect that going forward the town will make a big effort to leave trees when these projects are developed. I cannot believe that there is anymore land available to develop or many trees left to save.

For heaven’s sake, give the bowling alley the variance it needs for a bowling ball and pin. Or are they easier to push around compared to Costco and Walmart? Compared to all that has gone on for over two decades, what the bowling alley is asking for is minutia.

Marsha Kipperman, Riverhead

07/25/13 8:00am
07/25/2013 8:00 AM

Riverhead Town officials are considering a proposal from Supervisor Sean Walter that would ban town elected officials from serving as leaders of political parties.

While the proposal comes at the convenient time when his onetime political rival, elected Assessor Mason Haas, is set to take over as Riverhead GOP chairman, it seems a reasonable plan. In a perfect town, such a bill would have no problem gaining approval from the Town Board.

But we don’t live in a perfect town. That much was evident at last Thursday’s work session, when the Town Board punted the proposal to an ethics board that has no authority to approve legislation. All the ethics board can do is make a recommendation to the Town Board.

Which raises the question: Does the Town Board really need to ask if banning elected officials from serving as political party leaders is a good idea?

There’s no doubt such a ban seems like a good idea to anyone who’s not an elected official — in other words, everyone the Town Board is supposed to represent.

Supervisor Walter should have trusted his initial instincts and had the town attorney’s office craft legislation on the ban. Then he could have tested his fellow board members to see who had the guts to stand up to party leadership and vote in favor of the proposal before Election Day.