For the first time in several years, the Riverhead Town Board reviewed its proposed budget in a public work session Thursday.
The tentative budget released by Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith on Sept. 30 called for a 1.17% increase in spending; a 2.5% increase in the tax levy and a 2.58% increase in the tax rate in the three funds that are paid into by all town residents.
The spending increase for all town funds, including water, sewer and garbage district, which are not paid into by all town taxpayers, increased by 2.76%, for a total of $100,390,400.
Since the supervisor’s budget was released, it has come under criticism from Republicans, who said it doesn’t adequately address illegal and unsafe housing in the town.
Ms. Jens-Smith, who is running for reelection on the Democratic line, said her budget includes one new code enforcement officer and three new cars for code enforcement.
Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is up for reelection on the Republican line, said he thinks the town needs to take overcrowded and illegal housing cases to state supreme court, which can bring steeper penalties.
He released a draft budget of his own that calls for hiring one more code enforcement officer, in addition to the one the supervisor proposed — a part time clerk for code enforcement and a part time paralegal who will work on bringing cases to State Supreme Court.
The expenses, he said, would not add to the budget the supervisor proposed.
But Ms. Jens-Smith said that the money would be coming from capital projects, and cautioned that the town just found out that it will have to pay at least $325,000 for records management as result of new state mandates next year.
“I’d be a little leery to take it from capital projects,” she said.
“The community very strongly wants to see something done that’s more than what we’re doing,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Cracking down on landlords with increased fines I can support.”
Ms. Jens-Smith said a paralegal in the town attorney’s office might be able to be assigned part time to the state supreme court cases.
The board also discussed a request to add $30,000 to the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps. budget to have a volunteer and an ambulance stationed in Jamesport during the busy summer months.
“This is a matter of public safety,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.
The RVAC is under contract with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance District to provide ambulance service to the town. The district is comprised of Town Board members.
In 2017, the Town Board approved third-party medical billing for motor vehicle accidents only.
Councilman Jim Wooten said the billing money was meant to be put in a reserve account to go toward the construction of a new ambulance barn.
The town has raised more than $300,000 through the billing funds to date. Finance administrator Bill Rothaar said the town also has spent $15,000 from the billing money on a new radio repeater for the ambulance and it may need a second repeater.
Ms. Smith’s budget also includes $12,000 to rent a modular building for use by the town justice court, which is considered to be overcrowded and dangerous.
“The justice court is bursting at the seams,” she said.
The proposal would be to use the modular building as an office for the town justices, freeing up office space in the court building.
Ms. Smith said it will probably be located in the front of the building.
“We have to do something right away,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.
The town has looked at many potential locations for a new courthouse and police headquarters over the years, but has yet to settle on a plan.
New York State gave the town the former Armory building on Route 58 for use as a police and court headquarters, but a majority of the board backed off when a study put the price of renovating the building at $13 million.