Riverhead town supervisor candidate Yvette Aguiar is criticizing the incumbent’s reaction to news that the town was awarded a $627,000 state grant to replace lead drinking water service lines.
Aguiar says Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith’s statement that she has a lot of questions about implementation before she would support committing the town to the state program reflects “indecisiveness.”
“What doubts does the town supervisor have?” Aguiar asks. The candidate held a press conference outside town hall yesterday while the town board work session was going on inside.
“In certain areas of our town, service water pipes are lead-based. Fact is, we have high lead counts in our community,” Aguiar said. “As a result, the state has afforded our town funds to mitigate this dangerous health issue. We need this grant utilized as soon as possible.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Friday announced $10 million in funding for lead service line replacements statewide. Riverhead was offered $627,327.
The town was one of 18 municipalities chosen to participate in the state’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program, based on the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels, median household income and the number of homes built before 1939 when lead service lines were used.
Aguiar, a Republican, said yesterday she doesn’t understand the supervisor’s response to the news, which she characterized as “we’ll think about it” and an unacceptable reaction.
“As a member of this community, I urge the town supervisor to accept the grant award,” Aguiar said.
As reported Monday, Jens-Smith said she had questions about how the program would be implemented, but she said the award was “a win for our community” and something the town would not be able to get done without assistance from the state.
Yesterday, Jens-Smith said Aguiar is “once again … misinformed as to how government works.” The candidate is “trying to create an issue where none exists for her own political gain,” the supervisor said.
The town learned of the award on Friday and on Monday participated in a conference call with state officials about the grant program’s procedures.
Riverhead officials were told the town will receive “an official award letter from the N.Y. State Department of Health … at which time we can take action,” Jens-Smith said.
That action would begin with a town board resolution authorizing acceptance of the award, which is not something the supervisor has power to do unilaterally under state law governing the powers and duties of town officials.
Grant funds can be used to pay engineering fees (planning, design and construction), legal fees, municipal administration fees, construction (materials, equipment, workforce) and site/property restoration.
The town would be responsible to identify and prioritize the lead lines to be replaced. Under the program’s rules, the municipalities can use their own workforce, hire outside contractors or allow homeowners to hire their own contractors.
It is a reimbursement program, so the town would have to spend the money and submit vouchers to the state for reimbursement. It would have two years to spend the grant award.
Aguiar said the supervisor’s response to the grant is another reason why she has “serious reservations” about the incumbent’s “approach to managing our water district.” She has accused Jens-Smith, a Democrat, of secretly negotiating to sell the water district to the Suffolk County Water Authority. Jens-Smith and the chairman of the water authority both flatly denied the accusation, which the candidate said was based on information from a source inside the water authority whom she was not at liberty to name, she said.
“The former water superintendent retired July 2,” Aguiar said yesterday. “It has been a month since his departure. We need our water district superintendent on board immediately.”
The supervisor and Councilman Tim Hubbard — town board liaison to the water district and Aguiar’s running mate in this year’s local election — both said the town has been interviewing candidates on the county’s civil service list and had already made offers to three people, who declined. In separate interviews last month, both said they were working on a fourth candidate. State law requires the town to hire off the civil service list, if a list exists, for a job title the town is seeking to fill.
The town board’s work session agenda yesterday included an executive session discussion regarding the hiring of employees in the water district.
In an interview yesterday afternoon, Jens-Smith said she expects the board to make an appointment to the district superintendent position at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday. She declined to identify the individual.
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