For nearly a year I have avoided all comment in regard to Sean Walter, my successor as Riverhead supervisor.
I wanted to allow him full and fair opportunity to show himself for what he is without my interference. And show himself he has, particularly through his statements concerning the town’s finances. In his statements he underestimates the intelligence of the town’s taxpayers and betrays a capacity for deception and a lack of grace.
If we are to believe Supervisor Walter, Riverhead suddenly has descended into a great financial crisis. And it’s all the fault of “the previous supervisor” or “the previous administration,” which, incidentally, included three members of the current administration. But as Ronald Reagan said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
These are the stubborn facts about the town’s finances.
1. When Sean Walter took office on Jan. 1, Riverhead had substantial reserve funds (approximately $8 million) representing 20 percent of its operating budget. Compare this with East Hampton, which had no reserves and a $30 million operating deficit, and Southampton, which had a substantial capital fund deficit.
2. The principal reason Riverhead had ample reserve funds on Jan. 1 was because during my six years as supervisor over $10 million was added to the town’s reserves: $7.5 million through non-refundable contract deposits from Riverhead Resorts, $2 million through successful settlement of litigation with LIPA and $1 million through thrifty management of several operating budgets resulting in year-end budget surpluses.
3. Riverhead received two credit upgrades from the national credit rating agencies during my three terms as supervisor and on Jan. 1 Riverhead enjoyed its highest credit rating ever.
4. The six budgets I proposed to the Town Board in September 2004 through 2009 contained tax rate increases averaging less than the rate of inflation. My 2005 budget proposed a tax rate decrease.
5. Each of my six proposed budgets used less town reserves than the previous one and all used less than my predecessor had during his last year in office.
6. The town budget is proposed by the supervisor but must be adopted by a Town Board majority. Not one of my six proposed budgets was adopted without the Town Board first increasing spending — usually over my strong objection.
7. Each year the final budget must be adopted by Nov. 20. Between his election on Nov. 3, 2009, and Nov. 20, 2009, Mr. Walter sat with his current Town Board and the outgoing board members at numerous budget meetings and enjoyed substantial input into the final 2010 budget. That final budget included $1.5 million more in spending than had been proposed in my September budget. Most of this increase resulted from the town declining to transfer to the county the emergency dispatch function, a very costly act championed by Mr. Walter.
Despite these stubborn facts, Mr. Walter’s statements regarding town finances seem to grow more hysterical daily. This is not helpful and reflects poorly upon the supervisor, who might better spend his time raising revenues and reducing expenses so as to limit any 2011 town tax rate increase.
We would be better served if the supervisor would stop the dramatics, clear the smoke and show more respect for the intelligence of our taxpayers, who know a self-created crisis for political gain when they see it.
Mr. Cardinale is an attorney who lives in South Jamesport. He served as Riverhead supervisor from 2004 to 2009 and before that was a Town Board member.