Riverhead Town Board split on spending $850K for ballfield lights

Riverhead Town has already spent about $1.7 million, and had planned to spend about $742,000 more, developing new ballfields in Calverton that, to date, have not yet been opened to the public.

Now, Town Board members are debating whether to spend another $850,000 — which would bring the project’s total cost to $2.3 million  — to install lights at those fields.

And it looks like three board members in favor of the lights may move to approve the measure next week — over the supervisor’s objections.

The town has been hoping to get the new fields open at EPCAL for at least three years, but has encountered numerous obstacles, including some from the state Department of Transportation, which wanted road improvement done along Route 25 leading to the park, and some from the county Health Department regarding sewage issues.

Town officials insist the DOT issues are resolved, and that the health department will allow portable toilets on a temporary basis. The fields are expected to open this spring.

Meanwhile, recreation department supervisor Ray Coyne has been pushing hard for field lights. His goal is to turn the facility into a complex like Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, which can attract tournaments to the area and actually generate money.

“Without the lights, you’re not even going to be able to pay for the $1 million because you won’t have the revenue,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said at Thursday’s Town Board work session, referring to the money the town has yet to bond on the $1.7 million it has spent.

While Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen both say the lighting project can and should be done in the future, Ms. Giglio and councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy say they believe the fields should have lights right away. There are currently no plan for lights.

“To…only have day games is a waste,” Mr. Wooten said.

RIVERHEAD TOWN COURTESY PHOTO | The four softball and baseball fields at EPCAL when they were first under construction.

Mr. Coyne, himself an avid softball player, believes the town can bring millions of dollars into the local economy by attracting tournaments to the site. He anticipates the fields generating about $136,000 in revenue for the town if they have lights.

But Mr. Walter says the town can’t afford bonding for the lights because it will jeopardize the town’s credit rating.

“You run the risk of a credit downgrade if you keep spending money you don’t have,” Mr. Walter said. “I have an $18 million sewage plant upgrade that we have to do.”

The sewer plant upgrade is being required by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Walter said that when Moody’s credit rating agency gave the town its most recent credit rating a few months ago, it warned the town shouldn’t do any more bonding or it could jeopardize its credit rating, which would lead to higher interest rates.

“I told Moody’s I would not bond this,” Mr. Walter said. “I told Moody’s the only thing we are going to bond is the sewage plant.”

Mr. Gabrielsen agreed with the supervisor.

“It’s not like we’re saying no lights,” he said, adding that the town can still install the lights in the future, when it has the money.

Nonetheless, the three board members planned to introduce a resolution at Wednesday’s regular Town Board meeting to bond for the light’s, a move Mr. Walter called “irresponsible.”

As Thursday’s work session ended, it appeared there were three votes in favor of the lights, although Mr. Coyne said he feared Ms. Giglio was having second thoughts, as she was asking for additional opinions on the issue from the town’s bonding counsel.

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Check the Feb. 23 Riverhead News-Review newspaper for updated and additional information.

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