Riverhead budget adopted

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town board members Jodi Giglio (left) and George Gabrielsen leave his office after having a meeting behind closed door before going to vote on the final budget.

The Riverhead Town Board will be moving forward with a 2011 town budget that is essentially the same one proposed by town Supervisor Sean Walter in October. The budget eliminates six full-time and seven part-time positions.

By law, the supervisor’s budget becomes the final budget unless the board approves changes to it by resolution. Mr. Walter was the only board member to vote in favor of adopting what was essentially his budget Friday, although the board did approve two small changes that cut an additional $22,000 from the nearly $50 million budget, prior to the vote to adopt the entire budget.

The board held a series of budget work sessions over the past month and a half, but couldn’t gain consensus on most changes, since councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy wanted to restore cut positions, councilmembers George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio wanted further cuts, and Mr. Walter did not support any changes to his budget.

The only changes approved by the Town Board in a special meeting Friday were further cuts, one reducing $15,000 from the lighting district and another reducing $7,000 from the garbage district. Those moves changed the increase in the town tax rate from 4.36 percent, in the supervisor’s budget, to about a 4.32 percent increase, which will equate to a savings of only a few dollars for most people.

Compared to this year’s budget, the increase in the 2011 budget amounts to about $93 more per year for someone owning a home assessed at $50,000, which equates to a $329,000 market value. But that’s just the rate for the town’s general fund, highway and street lighting districts. Town residents pay other special district taxes, such as fire districts, as well as school and county taxes. Town taxes are about 30 percent of the overall tax ball in Riverhead.

The board did not have three votes in favor of a proposal submitted by Councilmembers Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen to cut an additional $113,860 from the budget.

And after the meeting, there was some confusion as to whether the $22,000 in cuts were wiped out by the board’s subsequent vote against the amended budget. Former councilman Vic Prusinowski said he believes the additional cuts were offset by the vote against the final budget, and Mr. Walter said he believes that might be correct. Town finance administrator Bill Rothaar said that he believes the $22,000 in cuts are officially approved.

The issue of the layoffs drew the ire of the employees union.

The supervisor did not allow Bill Walsh, the head of the Suffolk County Civil Service Employees Association, to speak at the budget vote.

“He’s a chicken sh– for not allowing me the opportunity to speak on the motion,” Mr. Walsh told a reporter afterward. “That’s exactly what he is. You don’t run away; you allow people to speak.”

Mr. Walter said after the meeting, which was called by Ms. Giglio, “This was just a media circus. This was a show put on by some of the council members just for the media.”

Ms. Giglio said she called the meeting because she wanted to cut the budget even further. “I wanted a zero percent tax increase,” she said, though there were not enough votes to support further cuts.

“This is a goal, this budget,” Mr. Walter said afterward. “If I gave the town $44 million, they’d spend it, so I gave them $42 million.”

Mr. Walsh said the town will have to spend at least $100,000 in unemployment insurance for the 13 laid off employees.

The supervisor said that the money mistakenly not included in his budget to pay for CSEA salary step increases, which was more than $100,000, can be paid by shuffling funds in his budget. He also said the town has until the end of the year to bring back the 13 employees if the CSEA agrees to other concessions before that time.

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