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Riverhead Police Department to receive increase in funding in proposed 2022 budget; public hearing draws no comment

The Riverhead Police Department is slated to receive an increase of about $1.2 million in Riverhead Town’s 2022 budget, according to the town’s finance administrator.

Town Board members discussed the police funding during a public hearing on the proposed budget Wednesday. No members of the public spoke during the hearing, which was held as it traditionally has been on the day after Election Day. It was the first time the board publicly discussed the proposed budget.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said there were questions in the last few weeks claiming that her budget decreased spending in the police department, referring to a campaign issue.

“It actually increased,” she said, and added that the police department “received well over an extra $1 million and they got equipment.”

Bill Rothaar, the town’s finance administrator, said that was correct.

She said a reduction in equipment spending was due to the purchase of new vehicles, which would not be needed again.

“That’s what budgeting is all about,” she said.

Mr. Rothaar said the police department had requested funding for four new cars, but there were only funds for three that are accounted for in the current budget. Police Chief David Hegermiller, however, said another police vehicle was recently damaged in an accident. He said no one was injured. The car was new with only 9,000 miles on it, the chief said.

Mr. Rothaar said the police department spending is up just under $900,000 in the operating budget, but that “we were able to put $100,000 in there for body cameras and were able to put another $165,000 from this year’s [2021] budget” for police cars. Mr. Rothaar said the town also received some unexpected revenues from the state that were added to the budget that the board recently voted to use some to purchase vehicles, including some police cars. The $100,000 for body cameras came from the federal American Rescue Plan.

Overall, he said police spending is up $1.2 million.

Mr. Rothaar, in an overview of the town budget, said there are three major funds that every Riverhead taxpayer pays into — general fund, highway fund and street lighting district.

In those three townwide funds, spending increased by 2.08%, to $60.3 million. The tax levy, which is the amount of taxes to be raised, dropped by 3.3%, from $49.66 million to $48.02 million. The tax rate, which is the tax levy divided by $1,000 of assessed value, dropped by 1.37%.

But some of that is misleading, Mr. Rothaar said.

“The tax levy in the general fund is really the same as last year,” he said. “The $1,209,000 is actually a reduction because of a LIPA lawsuit with the county, which affects us. We didn’t reduce taxes by that amount. We kept the taxes flat but we moved it from tax levy to payment in lieu of taxes.”

One holdup in the budget relates to the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Ms. Aguiar said. She said the town has been unable to get an annual accounting from last year. She said they finally met last week, but “there’s a lot of documentation missing.”

“We need to clarify this for the public,” the supervisor said.

Mr. Rothaar said RVAC’s budget increase by 1%, per its contract with the town, plus $120,000 for a vehicle and training. He said the town met with the ambulance officials last Monday.

“Finally,” Ms. Aguiar said, adding that it’s important to keep RVAC going.

He said the ambulance officials agreed to have “open communications” going forward to avoid budgeting issues. A budget is typically due to the town on Aug. 1, Mr. Rothaar said.

“We’re going to be proactive to make sure we’re meeting with them regularly,” he said.

No one from the ambulance corps spoke at the budget hearing.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who will leave office at the end of the year after losing the supervisor race, asked that the board discuss the budget further in public work sessions.