The Riverhead Town Board during the Sept. 28 work session, when Supervisor Sean Walter discussed his 2018 tentative budget. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Time is running out on the Riverhead Town Board’s opportunity to comply with N.Y. State Law and adopt an operating budget for the coming fiscal year.

State law imposes a Nov. 20 deadline on the town board to adopt a final budget for the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1.

Section 109 of New York State Town Law reads: “The preliminary budget as submitted or amended shall be finally adopted by resolution of the town board not later than the 20th day of November…The preliminary budget as adopted shall be known as the annual budget for the town for the fiscal year beginning on the first day of January next succeeding, and it shall be entered in the minutes of the town board.”

The Riverhead Town Board has failed to meet that statutory obligation four times since 2010. It has voted to adopt a budget only three times, in 2013, 2015 and 2016. A fourth attempt, in 2010, failed to garner three votes to pass a budget resolution.

The state law contains a fail-safe provision, in the event the town board fails to act. It says the budget on which the board holds a public hearing — that budget is known as the preliminary budget — “shall constitute the budget for the ensuing fiscal year.” The public hearing is also required by the state statute.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s tentative budget, unveiled two days prior to the Sept. 30 statutory deadline, called for a 1.63-percent tax rate hike to fund a combined $1.1 million increase in spending, bringing total town-wide spending to $56.9 million and the total town operating budget to $95.5 million.

The town board held no public budget discussions on the supervisor’s 2018 tentative budget prior to holding a Nov. 8 public hearing on the proposal. The board has had no public discussion of the proposed budget since the hearing.

Despite the Nov. 20 deadline to adopt coming up on Monday, board members did not raise the question of adopting a budget at yesterday’s work session.

Asked after the meeting if the board planned to act on the budget proposal, the supervisor, as he was leaving the meeting room, dismissed the idea, saying board action is unnecessary because the preliminary budget becomes the adopted budget by default.

As Walter left the room, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she would be calling for a special town board meeting Monday to vote on the 2018 budget, which she also said she wants to see amended.

Giglio is now calling for a reduction in the budget allocation for department head salaries, which she said the budget would raise by 2 percent.

“The department heads’ salaries were supposed to be running in line with the SOA [Riverhead Police Superior Officers Association] and the SOA’s contract ended in 2015 and they were not supposed to be getting raises after that and there’s raises in the budget for every department head and I don’t think they should be getting the raises,” Giglio said yesterday.

Last Dec. 20, the town board voted 4-1, with Giglio voting no, to authorize the supervisor to sign an agreement with department heads and management providing for a cost of living increase and pay enhancement equal to the amount provided in the Civil Service Employees Association.

The collective bargaining agreements with both police unions, the Superior Officers Association and the Police Benevolent Association expired at the end of 2015. The proposed 2018 budget does not allocate any funds for contract raises for either union, Giglio said. She said yesterday she expects both contracts to be settled by arbitration. Though Giglio said arbitration decisions could come in 2018, she said it was uncertain whether the town would have to make any lump-sum payments to the union members in the coming fiscal year and she will not seek to add money to cover any such payments to the 2018 budget.

Giglio said she will seek to reduce the salaries of the supervisor’s staff in 2018 because she does not believe incoming employees should be paid the same salary as outgoing employees who have been in their jobs several years. She will seek to roll back the salaries of the deputy supervisor, chief of staff and secretary to the salaries that were paid in 2010.

Councilman Tim Hubbard, who, along with Councilman John Dunleavy, remained in the room after the work session ended, said staff salaries are set by resolution in January anyway.

Giglio said she “also [had] concerns because there’s money in the budget expected from the county for the sewer district and we don’t know we’re getting that from the county.”

“Why didn’t we hear about any changes before today,” Dunleavy asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Because we had an election on Tuesday and we have an incoming supervisor,” Giglio answered.

“I agree with you on the salaries,” Dunleavy said. “We are the poorest town in Suffolk County and the supervisor has the second-highest salary in the county.” He said the supervisor’s salary should be reduced to what the other East End supervisors are making.

“So I think we should have a special meeting on Monday and make those changes on Monday,” Giglio said.

Whether a special meeting will be held on Monday, however, is up to the supervisor’s discretion. State law says that where two members of the town board make a written request for it, the supervisor shall call a special meeting — but it must be called within 10 days.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.