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A year with COVID highlights Supervisor Aguiar’s first ‘State of the Town’ address

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar gave her first “State of the Town” address Monday, recapping what she felt are some of the town’s accomplishments over the past year as well as its goals for the coming year. 

“Just over nine weeks after I took office, we as a Town, began to experience the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it progressed toward the East End,” Ms. Aguiar said. 

Five months later, she said, “we endured a massive tropical storm, among other events, all of which created financial hardships and raised concerns for the safety and health of our residents.”

Read the full State of the Town here

Below are some of the highlights cited by the supervisor:

• “Local restaurants were severely impacted when state mandates required them to close,” she said. The town led the charge to enable restaurant owners to create temporary outdoor dining and open at 50% capacity, prior to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-opening plan. The town also waived all permit application fees and recently extended the expiration date, she said.

• The town and Suffolk County placed 33 homeless people in shelters after state mandates closed churches and left them without shelters. The town also received a $10,000 donation from the Zucker Family Foundation to purchase food and distribute it to food pantries and soup kitchens, according to the supervisor. 

• The town faced a $1.8 million revenue decrease in fees, state and county aid and other revenue. Ms. Aguiar said the town also renegotiated its police contracts to save $645,000 and reduced its insurance policies by $30,326, resulting in a 1.14% cut in the three townwide funds while staying below the state budget cap.

• While the town’s senior center was forced to close due to COVID-19, the town established a program enabling seniors to order groceries, food from local restaurants, medication, and other essential items which were delivered directly to their doors, so seniors didn’t have to leave home, Ms. Aguiar said. 

• “The COVID-19 vaccine availability has been sporadic, and the process has been very stressful on our seniors, especially online registration,” Ms. Aguiar said. “Next week, our office will launch an outreach program to assist seniors with transportation to and from Riverhead vaccination sites. The Senior Hotline coordinator and our Senior Center will join forces to ensure our seniors receive vaccines, once they become available.”

• Ms. Aguiar said that the crime rate in Riverhead Town “has remained relatively steady, and, in some instances has decreased.” She also said that town has hired 10 new police officers, five of whom can start immediately while the other five will start at the Police Academy. 

“We are also upgrading our police communication system to digital radio and a new fingerprint scanner will be installed, using funds obtained from a grant,” she said. 

• The town has three grants totaling $1.8 million to create a new Town Square on Main Street, buying three buildings and demolishing two of them to create a riverwalk down to the Peconic River, Ms. Aguiar said. 

It will be complemented by the Long Island Science Center’s plans to move into the former Swezey’s building adjacent to the Town Square. Another grant will be used toward a “transit oriented development strategy near Railroad Avenue,” the supervisor said. The TOD calls for constructing mixed-use buildings on the site. 

“The town has already received interest from a developer to renovate of the sites with a new overlay zone,” she said. 

• Ms. Aguiar also included the anticipated opening of Island Water Park, which dates back to 2003, in her speech. She said it is expected to open this summer.

“Riverhead will now have a new destination park, consisting of interactive family-friendly entertainment at all skill levels,” she said. The park, located on privately owned land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, will feature an indoor surf pool, a restaurant, a café, and family entertainment. The project is located on 42 acres the town sold to Island Water Park in 2013.

• Speaking to the most recent developments on water containment issues in Manorville and Calverton, the supervisor said the town is committed to investing funds to protect those residents.

“These residents deserve clean and safe water,” she said. “We will continue to champion for this effort with county, state and federal officials to supply clean and safe water.”