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Walter unveils tentative 2018 budget under tax levy cap

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter’s tentative 2018 budget calls for a 2.46 percent increase to next year’s tax levy, which would mark the first time in two years his spending plan doesn’t pierce the state-mandated tax cap.

The tentative budget calls for $56.85 million in spending within the general fund, highway fund and street lighting district.

The tentative budget has a yearly increase per average household of about $45 for a property with an assessed value of about $50,000. That increase will allow the town to hire a full-time police officer and code enforcement officer, Mr. Walter said.

The state’s tax cap law, which took effect for the 2012-13 fiscal year, requires municipalities and school districts to limit increases in the amount of money they raise through property taxes to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. The state has set the 2018 tax cap at 1.84 percent.

Since the cap also has a variety of exemptions that allow it to go above that amount, town financial administrator Bill Rothaar said the 2018 tax cap for Riverhead Town is 2.76 percent.

Mr. Walter described his tentative spending plan as a “lean budget.”

“What I want people to understand is that this  is 100 percent balanced,” he said. “Every single line in the budget is balanced. Every single thing is funded.

“I joke with people that you can’t buy a pencil in this town without it going through my office to get it approved.”

Overall spending in the town, including special districts such as water, sewer and parking, which are not paid by all taxpayers, is $95.6 million, up 1.8 percent from last year.

The supervisor recently told the News-Review that the budget would not include anticipated revenue from the proposed $40 million sale of town land to Luminati Aerospace at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The proposed budget also doesn’t include a major source of revenue:  funding from the county’s sewer district stabilization fund, which town officials say they are owed. The sewer stabilization rent is intended to pay the difference of any sewer rent increase beyond three percent.

The town is still “locked in a battle” with Suffolk County to pay sewer stabilization funds, Mr. Walter said. The supervisor blamed County Executive Steve Bellone for holding back development in Riverside and Southampton Town, which were slated to hook up to the Riverhead Sewer District.

Without the stabilization funds, “they’re never hooking anything up to our district,” Mr. Walter said of Southampton Town.

The county jail and courts in Riverside contribute to 25 percent of the town’s sewage flow, he added.

“They’re treating the Town of Riverhead and, by extension, the Town of Southampton, like wicked stepchildren,” he said. “It’s terrible and the county executive should be absolutely ashamed of himself for what he’s doing to us.”

If the funds are not secured before the budget is approved in November, the town may have to increase sewer rents by 50 percent in 2018. Mr. Walter said the town is prepared to take the issue to the state Legislature and has drafted legislation that, if passed, would force the county to pay Riverhead sewer stabilization funds in the same way it pays its county sewer districts.

The supervisor also said the town can’t afford to pay for a $100,000 study on whether to extend transferred development rights to property at EPCAL, adding he believes there may be other revenue streams to address it.

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Photo: Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter at Thursday’s Town Board work session. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)