File photo: Denise Civiletti

The county legislature yesterday agreed to accept late filings from five local municipalities, including the Town of Riverhead, establishing their eligibility to share in sales tax revenues designated for police services.

Riverhead Town missed a March 31 county deadline to file a verification of its public safety expenditures for 2018. The villages of Huntington Bay, Ocean Beach, Sag Harbor and Westhampton Beach, also missed the deadline.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith referred an inquiry to Riverhead financial administrator William Rothaar.

“It’s on me and my office,” Rothaar said last week. “We wait till the previous year’s numbers are finalized and we missed it,” he said.

The town expects about $1.7 million in sales tax monies this year to help fund police services, Rothaar said.

County revenue-sharing rules require a municipality receiving county sales tax money for public safety to verify by March 31 of each year that its prior year’s public safety expenditures exceeded the revenue-sharing funds it received from the county.

Rothaar said the sales tax funding is included the town’s operating budget for the current fiscal year. Total police department operating expenditures for 2019 are budgeted at just under $16.4 million, about one-third of the town’s general fund expenditures this year.

He said he expects the town to receive the funding by the end of the year and the delay should not negatively affect Riverhead’s cash-flow position.

Suffolk got a sales tax rate increase in 1990 specifically to help fund police services. The law requires the county to allocate to police services from 1/8 to 3/8 of 1% of the county’s sales tax revenue.

But the law did not establish a revenue-sharing formula for the town and village police agencies — leaving it to the discretion of the county to determine whether the sales tax money will be shared with the local police agencies and, if so, how much will be distributed. It’s been a point of contention over the years between successive county administrations and the two county legislators that represent the five East End towns, which all have their own police departments.

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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.