It’s clear town revenues are still nowhere near what they were during the real estate boom, but Riverhead Town and other municipalities continue to spend more than they take in. And taxes continue to increase.
With many in the private sector under- or unemployed, taxpayers should expect their local governments to shrink in kind through staff attrition, pay concessions and even layoffs.
Payrolls aside, programs must be cut or scaled back. That’s where the taxpayers must sacrifice as well — and our elected leaders must show some gumption instead of doing what’s politically expedient at the expense of long-term best interests. All too often Americans demand smaller government, but raise hell — usually egged on by opportunistic politicians — when government officials actually propose achieving just that.
In Riverhead, one of the first controversial programs to face the chopping block is the town’s seasonal pickup of loose leaves at curbsides.
Highway Superintendent George Woodson has said the program is expensive and burdensome. Not only could a change save upwards of $250,000 annually, he says, but doing nothing and leaving roadways loaded with standing piles of leaves could threaten lives and property.
If the program continues this year as-is, an already understaffed and overtaxed department still playing catchup from the spring might not be so quick to pick up those leaves, which are known to blow into streets and clog storm drains. That could make for dangerous driving conditions and problems that could contribute to flooding, something many of our neighborhoods are already prone to.
The pickup of loose leaves, while enjoyed by many, is without doubt a luxury; most Long Island towns and villages have stopped or are phasing out the service. And it’s one we could likely do without, at least for a little while.
All five members of Riverhead’s Republican Town Board — not just councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, who have helped push for a new approach — should put politics aside and work with the Democratic highway superintendent in his quest to end loose leaf pickup and come up with an alternative program, even if that merely means publicly supporting him.
As of now, it seems some members of the board are content to do nothing, and hang Mr. Woodson out to dry as he plans for a tough task ahead. They should be standing by him.