Residents to receive calls asking them to vote no on bus garage

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Brad Bender, right, encouraged Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association members to call school district voters and tell them to oppose the Riverhead School District’s plan to put a bus barn in Riverside. Vince Taldone, center, was elected FRNCA’s president Monday, replacing Mr. Bender. Steve Schreiber, left, is the board’s new vice president.

Residents in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton communities can expect a call soon asking them to vote against Riverhead School District’s plan to relocate the district’s bus maintenance and storage facilities to an industrial area in Riverside.

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association established plans Monday to have its members call as many of the registered voters living in their hamlets as possible to ask them to vote against the upcoming proposition to buy land near the Phillips Avenue Elementary School for a bus garage.

The purchase price is $480,000, according to officials.

Brad Bender, the group’s outgoing president (Vince Taldone was elected its new president Monday, as Mr. Bender plans to run for town office) handed out sheets with the phone numbers of registered voters in the Southampton Town portion of the school district that have voted in recent elections. Each sheet contained about 15 numbers. The names of those people were not on the sheets, he said.

“We want you to call them and ask them to vote no,” Mr. Bender told the group. “There are about 1,600 numbers here. We can sway this vote. If we can convince about 200 people to vote no, we can sway this vote.”

FRNCA also handed out a sheet with some “suggested talking points” for callers to bring up.

The association feels the bus barn, with 100 buses, drivers and attendants, will add traffic to the already congested Flanders Roads and should not be located next to an elementary school. The group also feels it will be too close to residences on Old Quogue Road and it should not be in the enterprise park. The school land would be tax exempt and the enterprise park was meant to create jobs and bring tax generating businesses into an area where much of the land is already tax-exempt, the group said.

FRNCA also feels the existing bus barn can be repaired and suggests putting new athletic fields at Phillips Avenue instead.

“Phillips Avenue children deserve playing fields just as much as any other kids in the district,” one of the talking points reads. “They don’t deserve to choke on bus fumes.”

Riverhead Board of Education president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said in an interview Tuesday that the propositions are not cast in stone.

“It’s merely authorizing us to start the savings account,” she said, “and authorizing the board to buy the property if we chose to proceed. It doesn’t mean that if you vote yes on either of those propositions that we’re moving forward. We were serious when we told the people we are willing to go back and take a look at this and discuss it. We’re not dictators.

She said the board thought it could get the bus garage without going back to the community for additional money.

“Yes, we probably should have sat down and discussed it, but it seems like you can’t win whichever way you go,” she said. “If you go back to the community and say we need another bond for the bus barn, they are going to be ticked, and rightly so, and if you try to use the funds you already have, some people are ticked. So, either way, it seems you’re going to offend some people.”

The May 21 school ballot also will include a proposition to authorize the district to set up a savings account of up to $10 million to fund the new bus garage. Money for the fund will come from unspent funds at the end of each budget year and from the sale of district-owned land on Tuthills Lane.

The district says its current bus garage on Osborn Avenue is old and falling apart, and school officials want to build new sports fields at that location.

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