Town transferring $523K from reserves for police

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a bicyclist on West Main Street.

The Riverhead Town Board may be digging into the town reserves to the tune of $523,000 to pay for police salary increases that were the result of the new Police Benevolent Association contract approved in December.

And of that money, $104,000 will be going toward beefed-up downtown police patrols.

The other $419,000 being taken from the town’s fund balance will pay for costs associated with the new police contract, which was approved after the town budget was adopted in November.

“That’s a big nut,” Riverhead Sean Walter lamented at Thursday’s public Town Board work session, where the matter was discussed.

The new contract increases base salaries by 2 percent per year for three years, beginning in 2013.

The PBA contract applies to police officers and detectives.

Officers who are sergeants or lieutenants are covered by the Superior Officers Association, and their contract for 2013 has yet to be approved.

The town has about $8 million left in its fund balance, although that number could rise depending on how much it makes from renting space at town land in Calverton for stories of storm-damaged cars.

The downtown patrols measure comes a few weeks after a couple was robbed at knifepoint after a day at the Long Island Aquarium, and a man was killed by a hit-and-run driver. There was also an armed robbery at Barth’s Drug Store late last year, among other things.

On Tuesday, the Town Board is expected to vote on a resolution to transfer $104,000 from fund balance to cover the cost of adding part-time police officers to downtown Riverhead, along with the cost of overtime for existing officers.

“This is what it’s going to cost to keep the extra patrols on Main Street for the rest of the year,” Mr. Walter told the Town Board at Thursday’s work session, where it was reviewing resolutions for Tuesday’s board meeting.

Mr. Walter said that $75,000 of the $104,000 will be used to hire part-time police officers, while the rest will pay for additional overtime costs associated with increasing the police patrols downtown.

“This is obviously going to give us the biggest bang for the buck,” Mr. Walter said of the plan to hire part-timers instead of full-time officers.

Councilman Jim Wooten, a former town police officer, said there are already three sectors that cover downtown, including one foot patrol officer.

Mr. Walter agreed.

“Before we even do this, there are more police officers downtown than anywhere in Riverhead,” Mr. Walter said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested having cops on bicycles and cops walking behind the restaurants in the West Main Street parking lot off Griffing Avenue.

“When I went there last week, some lady came up to me and asked me for a couple dollars for gas,” she said. “And I got into my car as fast as I could.”

Mr. Walter said those were issued for the police chief.

“We’re not discussing police deployment on TV,” he said of the taped work session meetings.

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