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Short-handed Town Board rejects supervisor’s proposal to increase fines

A proposal to strengthen Riverhead Town’s building and housing code that was put forward by Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith before the election was rejected by a short-handed Riverhead Town Board last Wednesday, when she and Councilman Jim Wooten were absent.

The proposal failed to gain the necessary three votes. Republican council members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard voted against it and Democratic Councilwoman Catherine Kent voted in favor.

The proposal, which came at a time when residents have been asking for tougher rules on illegal and overcrowded housing, called for increasing fines to as much as $10,000 per day for property owners who fail to comply with building codes, and would treat each day of a continued violation as a separate additional incident.

Jail terms of up to 15 days could also be imposed, according to the proposal, and failure to comply with code would allow the town to revoke a building’s certificate of occupancy.

“I think that this is a great start and gives us the tools to fight against the landlords,” said Ms. Kent.

“I think this still needs some more work,” said Mr. Hubbard.

Ms. Giglio said she agrees with the higher fines but feels there are inconsistencies in the proposed changes. She suggested the town adopt the state Property Maintenance Code and take recommendations from the town’s code enforcement agencies, “and then go back out for public hearing before adopting something haphazardly.” She said Mr. Jens-Smith’s proposal was drawn up at the last meeting to present at a work session.

Ms. Kent said the proposed code is stronger than the state code.

“As a board, we have to make tough decisions,” she said.

Mr. Hubbard said that in order to change from the state code, the town would have to petition the state.

“I’m not looking to delay this,” he said. “I am in favor of increasing the fines.”

“They talk a good game about addressing code enforcement and overcrowded housing. They talk a good game, but when it comes to a vote, they voted it down,” Ms. Jens-Smith said in an interview Tuesday. “It wasn’t inconsistent with the state law; we made it stronger. Nothing has to go up at the state level.”

The supervisor said state approval is only needed if changes make the local code weaker than the state code, not stronger.

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