File photo: Denise Civiletti

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar has presented her first budget.

The 2021 total spending plan comes in at just under $99.6 million, a $664,200 reduction in the three town-wide funds — the general fund, highway fund and street lighting fund, which total just under $59.1 million.

The 2021 tax rate increase 3.45% to $58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of $1.93 per $1,000 over the current tax rate, according to the budget data released by the supervisor today. The increase results in a property tax increase of about $96.50 per year on the “average” home in Riverhead — which officials have previously said has an assessed value of $50,000 and a market value of $350,000. The $58 tax rate per $1,000 does not include special district taxes, such as sewer, water, garbage and ambulance district taxes.

“The COVID-19 pandemic created profound financial challenges for the Town of Riverhead, triggering a substantial shortfall of anticipated town revenues,” Aguiar said in the statement she filed with the budget. “Drastic cuts in state and county funding, along with the loss of anticipated revenues, led to a $1.9 million reduction in the projected 2021 general fund budget,” she said.

“Additionally, New York State has mandated a substantial increase in the town’s contribution to the retirement pension fund. The increase, estimated at approximately $872,400, further escalates the town’s financial burden,” the supervisor said.

“Generating a budget which provides a high standard of essential services, ensures public safety, protects town and special district infrastructure, while addressing budgetary shortfalls and remaining in compliance with the New York State property tax cap was an arduous task,” Aguiar wrote in the budget statement.

The proposed total town-wide tax levy for 2021 is $49,664,100, a $1,257,900 or 2.6% increase over 2020.

Each department head was asked to reduce operating costs through the elimination of nonessential purchases, insourcing where possible and working cooperatively to avoid any negative impact or the elimination of services to residents, Aguiar said.

The tentative budget does not call for any staff layoffs. But there is a hold on all new hires and promotions, with the exception of essential services, the supervisor said. Large capital asset purchased have been limited and discretionary spending was reduced by approximately 20% in each department.

Aguiar said her office renegotiated the PBA and SOA union contracts. Both bargaining units agreed to extend their contracts by two years and agreed to extend retirement payouts of accumulated leave time over four years. That resulted in a savings of $645,000 in 2021, Aguiar said.

“The 2021 tentative budget I present to you today, is reflective of my unwavering commitment to improve the quality of life for the residents, businesses and visitors of the Town of Riverhead,” Aguiar said in the statement. “Although it is evident COVID-19 has negatively impacted our town financially, I am hopeful we have successfully mitigated the fiscal challenges presented,” she wrote. “I will continue to closely monitor any financial changes evolving from the COVID-19 pandemic, and make appropriate adjustments as we navigate through the coming year.”

The tentative budget will be presented to the town board at a special town board meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Riverhead Town Hall. It has been filed with the town clerk and is available on the town website. A separate budget supplement document, which discloses 2019 unaudited actual expenditures and 2020 expenditures through June 30, is also posted there.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be live-streamed on the town’s website and broadcast on Optimum cable television channel 22. It will also be accessible via Zoom for any member of the public who wants to comment on the budget presentation. Town hall remains open to the public on a limited basis and the town hall meeting room will not be open to the public.

To join the meeting via Zoom, use this link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88954714528?pwd=OGFnaTlLTnNmbCtPRnFMR3pMRG5oUT09
or call +1 929 205 6099
Meeting ID: 889 5471 4528
Passcode: 874335

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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.