Guest Spot: Making the case for CAT’s proposal

I urge the Town Board on the behalf of Riverhead taxpayers to consider seriously the proposal from the Ghermezian family to create the Calverton Aviation Technology park at the former Grumman facility.Town government is not structured to develop this property – this is clear from many attempts over two decades. The property gifted to the Town 20 years ago has sat vacant while proposal after proposal has come before the public taking up valuable employee staff time but not moving forward.

By far the Ghermezian proposal is the most fitting to create the highest and best use of the property and to fulfill the intent of the federal legislation gifting Riverhead the property — to create jobs, to restore tax base and to spur economic development for the region to replace the lost Grumman facility.  Had we given the property away 20 years ago, the Town would have saved millions of public dollars in staff time, property maintenance, planning costs not to mention potentially spurred jobs and created investment opportunity. At the very least the Town would have collected the taxes on the raw land which today’s dollars would be roughly $4.3M in property tax — think of the value of those dollars every year for 20 years being lost.

The Rauch Foundation, through its Long Island Index reports, has studied the economics of Long Island in-depth and produced recommendations for what can we do now: Support innovation-based industries that create good-paying jobs. This is exactly what the Ghermezians are proposing. Let’s find a way to work with this family to support innovation and create good paying jobs for our kids here in our town.

The Rauch Foundation documents that over the last generation Long Island has lost thousands of high-paying jobs in defense and technology-related manufacturing. We don’t need a study to know this — we lived it with the loss of Grumman. With little job growth and stalled wages, young Long Islanders are leaving in multitudes to take better-paying jobs elsewhere. “Brain drain” or the steady out-migration of our young people after we have educated them in our public schools has a very real cost too. According to the 2016-2107 Fiscal Accountability summary of Riverhead School data there are 5,611 students in the district at an average cost per pupil of $12,932 for a total annual cost of $72,560,108. Think about what we pay to educate one of our children over 12 years and then figure 25 percent of those kids leave the area because of limited job options. “Brain Drain” cost Riverhead taxpayers another $18 million per year in lost manpower as well as lost quality of life when your children must move out of state to create a future.

Let’s give the Ghermezian proposal a thorough review, but let’s also look toward a partnership with a well-funded experienced group that is looking to restore our legacy of aviation and tech industries.

Riverhead can be very proud of what it has done to help families and grandparents stay here on Long Island with all the 55-and-over communities it has. Now it is time for Riverhead to do something so those grandchildren and families can stay here too.

Photo caption: Syd Ghermezian, the vice chairman and CEO of Triple Five Group of Companies, speaks at last month’s hearing. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

The author is a town assessor and former chairman of the Riverhead Republican Party. He lives in Jamesport.