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Walter: Computer system upgrade won’t happen due to budget gap

Riverhead Town Board

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio sparred once again over upgrades to the town’s mainframe computer at last Thursday’s Town Board work session.

It will cost the town $50,000 to extend the licensing agreement for its current system another two years, according to financial administrator William Rothaar. But that system will soon need to be replaced.

Ms. Giglio instead proposed setting aside $120,000 to upgrade to a new mainframe, but Mr. Walter said there wasn’t money to do so.

Later in the week, the debate spilled over into another controversial subject: a pay raise for some of the town’s outside legal counsel. That raise was ultimately approved Tuesday in a split vote, over objections by Ms. Giglio and Councilman Tim Hubbard.

The disagreements stemmed from the deficit in Riverhead Town’s budget.

At a work session last Thursday, Mr. Walter said the town had counted on a contract with solar company Hecate Energy to provide money for the budget. But because that contract hasn’t been signed, the town is now $750,000 in the hole, he said.

“I didn’t have a crystal ball,” Mr. Walter said at the time. “The board didn’t have a crystal ball.”

“None of this can be bought because we have to fill the hole first,” he added.

Mr. Walter said he hopes to budget for better accounting software in the future. He also said he would be pulling from wherever he could in Town Hall to alleviate the budget deficit.

But Ms. Giglio said holding off on computer upgrades would cost Riverhead more in the long run, and noted that she didn’t vote in favor of Mr. Walter’s budget.

Later in the work session, she began to laugh — and Councilman James Wooten “oohed” — when Mr. Walter brought up a resolution increasing the pay rate for lawyers that serve the town as outside counsel from $175 to $200 per hour.

“I thought we were taking every penny and saving it,” Ms. Giglio said. “Why are we paying $25 more an hour when we have a $750,000 deficit?”

“We have three votes,” Mr. Walter responded, implying that enough of the Town Board would favor the raise.

That nearly proved to be false at the board’s meeting Tuesday night. Mr. Walter and Mr. Wooten supported the proposed raise, while Ms. Giglio and Mr. Hubbard opposed it. At first, Councilman John Dunleavy — the deciding vote — said he didn’t want to set a precedent by giving raises to people who hadn’t requested them.

“You have got to be kidding me, John,” Mr. Walter replied.

After some convincing from Mr. Walter — and a half-hearted challenge from Ms. Giglio, who said the supervisor was breaking meeting rules by talking during another member’s vote — Mr. Dunleavy changed his mind and voted for the raise.

Photo: Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter (left) and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio discuss possible upgrades to the town’s computer mainframe. Though Ms. Giglio said the town would save money in the long run through the upgrades, Mr. Walter said the budget deficit was too big for such a project to be undertaken. (Credit: Paul Squire)