Riverhead’s future looks bright and the town will continue to move forward and continue to build on its achievements, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said yesterday in her first “state of the town” address.
“I am confident we will overcome any crisis we may face,” Aguiar said. “As a town, we will continue to be innovative, proactive and explore all avenues to move our great town forward with pride and resilience.”
Aguiar chronicled the impacts the COVID-19 crisis had on her first year in office. Just nine weeks after Aguiar took office, the pandemic upended everything. The governor declared a state of emergency for the entire state on March 7; Aguiar followed suit on March 12, closing all town buildings and facilities and ordering all town employees, with the exception of essential personnel in departments providing vital services, to remain home.
For nearly a year now, the pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of town government and services, with meetings either canceled or closed to the public and occupancy of town facilities limited by pandemic restrictions. Some town facilities still remain closed.
“Many protocols have been set in place to effectively communicate and keep our community safe and operational as we head towards recovery,” Aguiar said yesterday, speaking to an invitation-only audience where those in attendance were assigned to socially distant seats in the town hall meeting room.
The supervisor detailed the challenges presented by the pandemic, the defining event of her term in office so far, and the steps she said the town took to meet those challenges and assist community members in need, particularly senior citizens.
Facing a budget shortfall due to the loss of revenue resulting from the pandemic, Aguiar said she reduced the town’s budget by 1.14% and renegotiated the town’s police contracts.
“We cut non-essential spending, placed promotions on hold and limited new hires, while maintaining the services taxpayers expect and deserve,” Aguiar said.
In the eight-page speech read from a podium on the dais, Aguiar listed initiatives taken in the past year and provided updates on ongoing projects and programs initiated before her term began.
The new initiatives she listed included:
- Establishing the Riverhead Senior Assistance for Essentials program (Riverhead SAFE) to provide free delivery to seniors of groceries, medications and other essential items so they need not go to stores and risk contracting the coronavirus.
- Establishing a senior emergency hotline, to provide COVID-19 information and referrals.
- Expanding the Meals on Wheels program and senior transportation program with two new buses.
- Moving the fire marshal’s office from the planning department to the police department.
- Commencing five Supreme Court actions in connection with alleged town code violations.
- Purchasing new radios and communications equipment for Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
- Negotiating contracts to buy three Main Street buildings, two of which will be razed to create a town square.
- Initiating the preparation of a flood management plan for the Peconic Riverfront by the Army Corps of Engineers.
- Negotiating a $1.5 million community benefits agreement with the developer of a proposed 22.9 megawatt commercial solar energy facility in Calverton.
All four council members were in attendance yesterday. Councilman Frank Beyrodt said he thought the supervisor’s speech was “a wonderful recap” of the accomplishments of the past year and “a clear vision going forward.”
“It was very comprehensive,” he said.
Councilman Tim Hubbard, who, since former Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s election to the State Assembly, is the longest-serving board member, said Aguiar “touched base on the things that are going on and gave status updates of things that were started in prior administrations.” He added: “Things seem to be moving in the right direction.”
Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she was surprised Aguiar did not mention the Enterprise Park at Calverton. “EPCAL is important. We need an economic generator,” she said. “We need another plan.”
The town is in contact to sell 1,644 acres of vacant industrially zoned land at the former Grumman manufacturing plant. The deal has been stalled because the town has not been able to obtain a permit from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is needed before it can gain approval of a subdivision splitting off the 1,644 acres subject to the sale.
Phil Barbato, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood preservation coalition, also expressed surprise that the supervisor didn’t mention EPCAL.
“She didn’t acknowledge any issues with DEC on the town’s municipal water system, which urgently need to be addressed,” said Barbato, of Jamesport.
“There have been three notices of incomplete application issued by DEC,” he said. “I don’t see a response to that.”
EPCAL is one of the biggest things the town is going to have to deal with in the next year or so, he said.
“It seems the approach here was to brag about accomplishments and where EPCAL is concerned, there’s nothing to brag about,” Barbato said.
“The tone of this speech was ‘we did so much’ but a lot of it would have been done if there was nobody sitting in the supervisor’s chair,” he said. “They were things already underway, or things that were a matter of routine business,” Barbato said, pointing to the $9.8 million debt reduction Aguiar highlighted was merely the result of the town making its scheduled bond payments during the year.
The town’s financial administrator William Rothaar today confirmed the $9.8 million reduction came through making regular bond payments. The town’s total outstanding debt was $67.76 million at the end of 2019, he said.
Aguiar was introduced by Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, via speakerphone. Former councilman James Wooten, who is now working part-time in the supervisor’s office, was the master of ceremonies. Deacon Michael Bonocore offered an invocation and benediction at the start and conclusion of the event.
In her second year of the two-year supervisor term, Aguiar will stand for re-election this year.
“We as a town will navigate and successfully tackle any future challenges presented to us,” the supervisor said. “I am confident we will emerge from the current state of emergency as a greater, smarter and more cohesive community, dedicated to building a better future for our residents.”
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