Frustrated by an ongoing lack of funds to develop and improve the town’s recreation facilities, the chairman of the Riverhead recreation advisory committee wants to form a non-profit organization to raise money privately.
Brian Mills told the town board at its work session Thursday that members of the committee are frustrated because there’s never any money available to undertake the capital improvements the committee believes are needed to properly maintain the town’s recreational facilities — let alone develop new ones.
“I’ve been on this rec board maybe for about a decade and nothing’s happened,” Mills, of Wading River, told board members Thursday. “I’m at my wit’s end. The rest of the board is, too. We feel like our time has been wasted enormously.”
“We’ve had no money to do capital improvements for the past decade,” Mills said.
Mills said he recently visited Doylestown, Pennsylvania and saw how the community, through a nonprofit group formed for that purpose, raised over $690,000 for the renovation of a publicly owned recreational facility known as Kidd Castle.
Mills said he’s like to spearhead a similar effort to raise funds to develop recreation facilities at the town park in Calverton, acreage carved out of the former Navy property transferred to the town and dedicated for parks and recreation purposes. The 62-acre, town-owned Veterans Memorial Park has so far been developed with a dog park and baseball fields, which are not lighted and underutilized because they lack lights, according to recreation superintendent Ray Coyne.
The town can’t legally solicit private donations, but a nonprofit can solicit them and then donate the funds to the town for a specific purpose, deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti told the board.
Riverhead’s capital budget for recreational facilities is funded solely by impact fees assessed on residential development. The fees, first implemented in the 1980s, are assessed on all new building lots and condominium units created by filed subdivision and condominium maps within the Town of Riverhead.
When first implemented, the recreation impact fee was $2,000 per lot. The fee was increased to $3,000 per lot and then, in 2006, to $5,000 per lot/unit.
In 2011, the town board, citing the impacts of the economic downturn on the real estate market, reduced the fee from $5,000 to $3,000 per per lot or condo unit.
According to information provided Friday by Riverhead financial administrator William Rothaar, between 2008 and 2018, the town collected $1,081,000 in recreation impact fees. The data provided by Rothaar show a lot of year-to-year variance in the amounts collected, with zero in 2018 and 2016, just $9,000 in 2014 and peak amounts of $201,000 in 2013 and $235,000 in 2009.
Mills said in an interview Friday that Rothaar gives the committee an annual report of how much money in impact fees the town took in the year before. Then the committee submits a recommendation to the town board on how to spend the money.
“It’s been dismal for the past three years,” Mills said.
The total amount of impact fees collected for 2016, 2017 and 2018 was $90,000 (collected in 2017), according to data provided to RiverheadLOCAL by Rothaar.
Mills said Friday the recreation committee previously suggested requiring impact fees for commercial development, too.
“Five or six years ago, when all that development was coming on Route 58, we asked if we could get impact fees from that,” Mills said. “We were told it would take state legislation and that was not a good prospect,” he said.
The town has not had money available in the general fund to set aside money for capital improvements and has not had a capital budget in place for years.
The recreation advisory committee culls ideas and creates plans, but there’s never any money to accomplish anything, Mills said. Hence the frustration felt by its members.
“Is the town open to this?” Mills asked board members at Thursday’s work session. “We don’t want to waste more time.”
Board members Thursday reacted favorably to the idea.
“I think this is workable,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who serves as town board liaison to the recreation advisory committee. “The school district did all of the playgrounds with donations,” she noted.
“It’s a great idea,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she believes nonprofits have better access to grant money than towns do.
Councilman Wooten said he believes people will donate if the fundraising is dedicated to a specific project.
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