Riverhead Town ratifies 2024 budget

Riverhead Town officials spent most of the Nov. 9 hearing on their proposed 2024 budget defending their decision to pierce the state’s 2% cap on tax levy increases. 

The state imposed the 2% cap in 2012. Exceeding that limit, however comes with no penalties, although it requires a public hearing. Riverhead’s 2024 budget carries a 4.8% spike in the tax levy, so a public hearing was needed to override the cap. But at that Nov. 15 hearing, not many people spoke, and the Town Board adopted the budget unanimously.

The adopted 2024 budget totals $69,430,200 in townwide sending, up by 8.7%, with a tax levy of $52,929,650, up 4.86%. The tax rate is $62.319 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of 4.54%. 

One reason for the increases, officials said, is that the town needs to increase salaries. 

“Our payroll was just substantially too low for too long for too many employees,” said Councilman Ken Rothwell. 

“We were playing catch-up,” he said. “People can’t make a living making $39,000 to $40,000 a year. It just doesn’t work on Long Island anymore.”

Mr. Rothwell added that for several years, including when COVID-19 struck, the town had zero increase in salaries. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar noted that the town has also increased its police force by 12 officers over two years.

“We’ve been having a difficult time trying to attract good workers to our workforce,” said Councilman Frank Beyrodt. “This was a step in the right direction to get people interested in working for the town.” 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the town has hired employees who then leave when they realize what their salary will be after deductions for taxes and health insurance are factored in.

Reeves Park resident Mike Foley was the only member of the public to speak on the subject, and he supported the increase. He said the state needs to revisit the tax cap, which he said will become more difficult to adhere to as costs increase.