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04/23/14 7:00pm
04/23/2014 7:00 PM

Riverhead police copsThe cost of converting the Route 58 armory into a justice court and police station would be $11.3 million, according to a recent estimate by an engineering firm hired by the town.

The cost of constructing a brand-new one? Nearly double — and that price doesn’t include the cost of land to build on.

Cashin Associates was hired by the town last fall, along with EGE Architects, for $87,500 to deliver an evaluation, analysis, schematic design and cost estimate for the conversion of the armory. In a letter sent this week to town Justice Allen Smith, who requested the estimate, Cashin vice president Aldo Marletti wrote that constructing the premises from scratch would cost $21,787,900.

Judge Smith has been warning town officials about cramped quarters at the justice court for years. He said the cost estimate for a new building was done only for comparison purposes. Cashin will not be paid extra for the additional estimate, which is covered by its existing agreement with the town.

To date, no one on the Town Board has proposed construction of a new building for the police and courts. But the $11.3 million armory renovation has been opposed by at least three board members who have since suggested other options, including expanding the existing police station or using the Second Street firehouse.

“We can’t afford $22 million or $11 million,” said Councilman John Dunleavy.

Councilman George Gabrielsen, who also opposes the armory plan, questioned the motivation behind requesting a new-construction estimate.

“This seems like another way to try and convince the board to vote for the armory,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. She favors moving Town Hall to the Second Street firehouse and moving the court into the current Town Hall building. That would enable the police station to expand and occupy all of its current building, which is now shared with the justice court.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten could not be reached for comment.

The $21.7 million estimate does not include the cost of land. Mr. Marletti of Cashin said the amount of land required would depend on whether the site were located within the town sewer district. If sewers are available, he explained, a five-acre site would be sufficient, but if not, 9.5 acres would be needed to comply with county health department regulations.

Mr. Marletti estimated that a new police station would require 25,800 square feet, at a cost of $480 per square foot, for a total of $12.38 million. Those figures are based on the cost of the Suffolk County Police Fourth Precinct headquarters, which Cashin worked on in 2008.

Cashin’s estimated cost for a new court facility, based on a 14,900-square-foot building at $375 per square foot, came in at $5.58 million. Those figures were derived from costs related to the 2003 addition to the Supreme Court building on Griffing Avenue, Mr. Marletti said.

Also included in Cashin’s overall estimate were a 15 percent contingency budget for the project, $563,000 in site development fees and $150,000 for a radio tower.

The Town Board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the armory renovation project at its May 1 work session, officials said.

03/28/14 9:00am
03/28/2014 9:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As if journalists needed another reason to call for more open government, the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 started Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week was actually last week, March 16-22. But this week has provided us with a couple of reminders about how various elected officials could easily improve their efforts to open up to the public.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Riverhead’s all-Republican Town Board meets in caucus from time to time. Precedent supports the legality of such meetings. Supervisor Sean Walter’s allegation that board members are discussing public business during the meetings, however — and the fact that board members are meeting so frequently — is noteworthy, as it appears to fly in the face of state open meetings laws.

RELATED STORY: ‘SUPE TAKES AIM AT CLOSED-DOOR MEETINGS AMONG BOARD MEMBERS

Board members who attend the caucus meetings, as well as the current Riverhead Republican Committee chairman, deny the allegations, describing the meetings as discussions about the political impact of board members’ decisions and not the decisions themselves.

The timing the supervisor picked to bring all of this to light could be considered curious. He’s suffered the loss of a few votes on the public stage recently — likely stemming from discussions during these caucuses — so this could be construed as a political counter-punch. But there’s really no way for the public to know the whole truth unless the all-Republican Town Board stops meeting in caucus. And the only way to accomplish that, it would seem, would be to diversify the party affiliations of Town Board members.

Meanwhile, in the school district, a couple of instances this past week show room for improvement as well.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a thorough presentation Tuesday night about a $4 million bond proposal now set to go before voters in May, after which the school board voted to adopt it as a ballot proposition. But the proposal had never been publicly discussed at any previous school board meeting.

Without speaking on the merits of the bond itself, one might think these publicly elected officials — albeit volunteers — would want to inform and seek input from their constituents before setting the stage to borrow $4 million.

And following the presentation, it raises eyebrows to see a unanimous vote on such a costly plan without any discussion whatsoever — between members of the public and the school board or within the school board itself.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Another note from Tuesday night: The school board approved a plan to spend $456,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund right after closing a public hearing on the matter. While it’s not uncommon for public boards to adopt more mundane measures immediately following a public hearing, voters deserve more time to weigh in on $456,000 in expenses for a fund they voted to create.

So, in all, the school board may spend about $4.5 million with little public discussion or input from the people being asked to come up with the money.

If taxpayers in the town and school district feel they’re being increasingly marginalized when it comes to big decisions — and their leaders are opting to keep them out of the discussion to avoid headaches, slowdowns or the outright blockage of measures — then the public’s only recourse is to demand change through their votes.

03/27/14 5:15pm
03/27/2014 5:15 PM
Councilman John Dunleavy (left) and Sean Walter at a recent work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Councilman John Dunleavy (left) and Sean Walter at a recent work session. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

“This board tore each other apart for the last two years on petty issues. And the lack of caucuses allowed that to happen.”

That’s how Riverhead Republican committee leader Mason Haas explained why he believes Riverhead Town Board members, all Republicans, need to meet in twice-monthly political caucus meetings — which are closed to the public.

(more…)

03/14/14 6:00am
03/14/2014 6:00 AM

Seven Republicans, two Conservatives, and a Blank walk into Riverhead Town Hall …

That might sound like the beginning of a bad joke to some, but after the most recent Planning Board appointment, it’s the actual political makeup of Riverhead Town’s planning and zoning boards.

And that’s no joke. (more…)

03/13/14 5:45pm
03/13/2014 5:45 PM
Riverhead town board members Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio

Riverhead town board members Jim Wooten, John Dunleavy, Supervisor Sean Walter, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Board members all agreed on a 12-year term limit for elected officials in policy making positions during a discussion at Thursday’s work session.

But they don’t agree on term limits for non-policy making elected officers, or for members of appointed boards like the planning board. (more…)

03/04/14 6:56pm
03/04/2014 6:56 PM
Riverhead Town received 5 renewable energy proposals and 4 proposals for peak plants.

Riverhead Town received 5 renewable energy proposals and 4 proposals for peak plants.

The Town Board last week received four responses to a request for proposals for peak energy plants or energy storage facilities last Tuesday, and five responses to an RFP for renewable energy, such as solar energy.

Board members declined to get into specifics of the proposals, saying they can’t disclose who responded until they select one.

The town has set aside a 90-acre area at the Enterprise Park at Calverton for energy plants, and also is seeking solar proposals or fuel cells at the Youngs Avenue landfill site. Some of the responses sought to purchase land while others sought to lease, according to Councilman Jim Wooten.

“Hydrogen fuel cells seem to be the flavor of the day,” Mr. Wooten said. “There’s more return on your money and there’s a higher energy that’s created.”

The town RFP is in response to similar RFPs issued by LIPA, which has a March 31 deadline for submissions. In order for the town’s choice to move forward, it must be picked by the LIPA approval process.

Councilman George Gabrielsen had said prior to the opening of the proposals that he hoped the town would make about $2 million per year in rent from power companies, but he said on Tuesday that he can’t discuss numbers until the proposals are made public.

“I’m hoping for the best possible outcome,” he said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the town might make decisions as to which companies it will submit to LIPA on Thursday.