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Idea pitched to create nonprofit that would help fund improvements to town parks

A nonprofit organization could be formed to mitigate some financial woes that have burdened the Riverhead Parks & Recreation Department in recent years.

“We’ve had no money, therefore we can’t do any kind of capital improvement projects,” said Brian Mills, who chairs the Recreation Advisory Committee. “The only way we can get money is through the sale of new homes, or a matching grant.”

But in order to receive matching grants, the town has to put up money; a catch-22.

At a Town Board work session Thursday, Mr. Mills proposed creating a private nonprofit organization that could fundraise for various park improvements throughout the town.

It would operate in a similar way to Riverhead Townscape, which was established in 1976 to beautify the town and has sponsored the annual Riverhead Country Fair for many years.

Board members applauded the idea and councilwoman Catherine Kent pointed out that many of the Riverhead School District playgrounds were built with community support.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith questioned the legality of such an organization. Deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said the town may accept donations from a private entity and could set guidelines on how the funds are used. 

“It is permissible under the law for the town to accept a donation wherein the donation has set forth certain conditions on how to spend it,” Ms. Prudenti explained at the work session.

Mr. Mills said that the committee has identified parkland at the Enterprise Park at Calverton and Stotzky Park as two areas that are in need of upgrades.

After nearly a decade on the committee, he sees this as one of their few options to fund improvements. 

“I’m at my wits end and the rest of the board is at their wits end,” he said.

The advisory committee was formed to oversee park and recreation funds that were captured through new home construction in Riverhead. 

“Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was a healthy amount of money in [the fund] and a lot was accomplished,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “We don’t have that source of funding coming in anymore because the building is down.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said that though those funding sources may not be as active, the town budget should address the upkeep of park facilities. 

“It still can be captured in the general fund, especially if funds are not coming in to help maintain the parks,” she said. “I think it needs to be a priority in the budget.”

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