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Public hearing on proposed town budget, including hefty raises for most elected officials, slated for 2 p.m. today

The Riverhead Town Board reviews resolutions during last week's work session. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town’s proposed 2017 operating budget will be the subject of a this public hearing this afternoon at Riverhead Town Hall.

Calling for $55.45 million in total town-wide spending, a 1.95-percent spending increase over this year, the proposed budget would raise the town-wide property tax rate to $53.228 per $1,000 of assessed valuation — a 4.19-percent rate hike.

For an “average” home with a market value of $350,000 — an assessed value of $50,000 — the town-wide property tax bill would increase $96 next year.

The preliminary budget requires the board to pierce the tax levy cap imposed by state law, which requires the town board to adopt a local law authorizing it to pierce the cap; a resolution adopting that local law is also on today’s agenda for a vote.

If adopted in its current form, the 2017 budget would increase the tax levy by 4.81 percent. That’s 3.39 percent higher than the 1.4 percent tax levy cap imposed on Riverhead Town by state law. (The tax levy limit is set at the lower of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, with certain adjustments, including tax base growth. Without the tax base growth the levy limit would have been set at .68 percent.)

See the proposed budget online

The preliminary budget that’s the subject of today’s public hearing is identical to the tentative budget Supervisor Sean Walter presented to the town board on Sept. 29. The town board has not so far held any public budget discussions or made any changes to the supervisor’s tentative budget, nor has it voted to adopt the tentative budget as its preliminary budget. As such, the tentative budget becomes the preliminary budget by operation of law when the board schedules a public hearing on it.

Most elected officials to get ‘roughly $10,000’ pay hikes

The proposed budget provides salary increases of “roughly $10,000 each for all elected officials in non-policymaking positions,”  Supervisor Sean Walter said. That means all elected officials other than the town supervisor and council members, he said. The supervisor’s salary will remain $115,148 and the council members’ salaries will remain $48,955 each. The supervisor and town board members have not taken a pay increase since 2009.  The other elected officials last had a salary increase in 2012, when they got a 2.9-percent raise.

The town clerk and highway superintendent, according to a notice published with the budget hearing notice, as required by state law, would see increases from $74,449 to $83,846 and from $84,178 to $94,803, respectively. The law does not require the town to publish the proposed salaries of the other elected officials as part of its official budget notice. The current salaries of the other elected officials are: tax receiver, $71,581; assessors $74,449; chairwoman of assessors $84,047; justices, $75,093. These office holders will receive about $10,000 more in 2017, if the proposed budget is adopted.

Nothing in budget for department heads, unionized workforce

There is no salary increase for department heads in the proposed budget, Walter said.

Nor is there anything budgeted for raises for members of any of the three labor unions, he said — the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most town employees; the Police Benevolent Association, which represents the rank and file police officers and detectives; and the Superior Officers Association, which represents police brass.

The labor contracts for all three unions expired as of Dec. 31 last year. Negotiations are ongoing, the supervisor said.

Any settlement with the unions calling for wage increases will have to be funded by increasing the tax levy some more and cutting from other places in the budget, Walter said.

The proposed budget does include increases for workers in the senior services department, Walter said: bus drivers, aides, cooks — “basically the people who run the program,” he said.

“It’s never a good time to give raises, especially not for elected officials. I’m trying to be as fair as possible,” Walter said.

The supervisor customarily leaves the record of each hearing open for written comment for a period of 10 days. Written comment may be sent by email to the town clerk or by postal mail to: Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhem, 200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead NY 11901. 

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to reflect the amount of the raises elected officials (other than the town board and town supervisor) received in 2012.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.