Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith presiding over her first town board meeting Jan. 3. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith delivered her first operating budget yesterday, proposing a 3.9 percent spending increase in the three town-wide funds — the general fund, highway fund and street-lighting district — to $59.1 million. Total town spending in 2019 would rise to just under $97.7 million.

The budget calls for a 2.70 percent hike in the total town-wide tax rate, from $54.093 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2018 to $55.551 per $1,000 in 2019.

The 2019 town-wide tax levy would increase by 3.42 percent to fund the 2019 spending plan.

Jens-Smith said the tax levy increase is within the limit set by the state comptroller.

The tax levy increase for towns is capped at 2 percent for 2019, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced in July. Riverhead financial administrator William Rothaar said Riverhead Town’s tax levy limit is 2.76 percent for next year — higher than the 2 percent because of growth in the town’s tax base. In addition, Rothaar said, the town’s allowable tax levy increase is boosted by pro-rated adjustments to the tax base from the previous fiscal year.

The spending plan does not draw on the general fund balance to pay the cost of operations.

“I have prepared a budget that seeks to address areas that will form the building blocks for our continued ability to improve the quality of life for all residents and businesses in Riverhead,” Jens-Smith said in a budget message delivered with the tentative budget.

The budget includes funding for an additional code enforcement officer, two additional police officers to patrol downtown Riverhead and two additional staff in the water district, the supervisor said.

The budget also provides for software upgrades to improve efficiencies, service and transparency, Jens-Smith said, including the implementation of a web-based 311 service. It also includes software upgrades to address cybersecurity and disaster recovery.

“This budget supports what I’ve started doing this first year in office,” Jens-Smith said. The Laurel resident, a Democrat, defeated four-term Republican incumbent Sean Walter last year.

She cited stepped-up code enforcement efforts and adoption of new codes to address blighted structures and foreclosed homes.

“The 2019 budget reflects my commitment to help improve the quality of life for our residents, while remaining within the tax levy cap,” she said. “I will continue to review policies, fees, and seek out opportunities to increase the services we provide residents and provide relief to our taxpayers.”

State law requires the town supervisor to to file his or her budget proposal with the town clerk on or before Sept. 30.

The law charges the town board with responsibility to review the tentative budget and gives the board the ability to make any changes to it before adopting a preliminary budget, which is then subject to a public hearing. If it makes no changes, the supervisor’s tentative budget automatically becomes the preliminary budget. The public hearing on the preliminary budget must be held on or before the Thursday immediately following the November general election. Additional changes may be made after the public hearing, but the town board is required by law to adopt a final budget by Nov. 20. If it fails to do so, the preliminary budget automatically becomes the final budget.

“I think I put out a good budget,” Jens-Smith said in an interview yesterday afternoon. “I tried to address some of the issues that have been a concern, improve our technology infrastructure, maintain and improve services throughout the town and keep spending within the tax cap.”

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