Kids run out onto the new soccer field after the ribbon-cutting in September 2011.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

The town’s only multipurpose recreation field has to be closed until about June for repairs, Riverhead Recreation Superintendent Ray Coyne told the town board at its work session yesterday.

“The problem is when you have just one field, those fields need rest,” Coyne said. “We’re playing all day and seven days a week in the summer. And so now unfortunately have to shut down till June so they can fix it up again.”

The field, located on the north end of Stotzky Park, was rebuilt in 2011 at a cost of about $340,000. The town put down sod and installed fencing with a locked gate to protect the turf from unauthorized use. It was originally intended for use by youth soccer leagues only, town officials said at the time.

But demand for the field has grown and since it opened in September 2011, it’s been rented out for use by adult soccer leagues, PAL football and others, Coyne said.

It’s at a point now where it needs major work to be serviceable, the recreation superintendent said yesterday . He did not state a projected cost for the necessary repairs and it was not discussed during the board’s work session yesterday.

Coyne has long been an advocate for instalation of artificial turf for multipurpose fields at town facilities. But artificial turf fields are much more expensive to install and they’ve been cost-prohibitive for cash-strapped Riverhead Town — even though upkeep and maintenance are less expensive than grass fields.

The town will lose rental income due to the shutdown, he said. He did not say how much rental income would be lost as a result and it was not discussed during the board’s work session.

The recreation department yesterday presented an overview of conditions at the town’s parks, beaches and recreational facilities, with photos of conditions that need repair and equipment that should be replaced. The slideshow highlighted a variety of problems, from severe drainage problems on the baseball fields at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton to the need for upgraded playground surfaces and paving projects at various parks, where some walkways and parking areas present safety hazards.

Coyne presented board members with a parks improvement report, setting forth this year’s capital project priorities.

Veterans Memorial Park on Route 25 in Calverton. File photo: Denise Civiletti

At the top of his list — every year — is the installation of lighting for the ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park. Night use of those fields would double the town’s rental income there, he said. Coyne did not provide the board with a cost estimate yesterday. In the past, he has said it would cost about $800,000, but at this point that estimate is nearly a decade old.

Coyne’s 10-page report lists projects for each of the town’s facilities, with priority items in red. Estimated costs for each were not included.

According to the report, the town’s parks and recreation fees fund — sourced through per-lot or per-unit fees paid by developers of residential projects — currently has just over $121,545 cash on hand.

Recreation Advisory Committee chairman Brian Mills, who joined the work session discussion via Zoom, told the board “there are there are not enough new homes that can be sold, that can put enough money into these coffers to do the kinds of projects that we’re talking about.”

Mills, who has been on the committee for nearly 11 years, said money has always been an issue that’s prevented the town from improving its parks. There has been a history of deferred maintenance and repairs. The town just keeps “kicking the can down the road,” he said.

“I guess the best way to compare it is — almost it’s like you bought a home but you never actually fixed up your home after 30 years,” Mills said.

The Recreation Advisory Committee advocates borrowing the money needed to do some of these projects that Mills said “eventually will pay for themselves.”

Putting lights on the fields, installing multipurpose turf fields are income-producing investments, Mills said.

The town is “really missing out on the opportunity available by not having lights out there at Veterans Memorial Park,” Mills said, reiterating what Coyne has told a succession of town boards for more than a decade now.

The town cannot do any of the upgrades it needs to do “without a big infusion of capital,” Mills said.

“We really would like to see the town board taking a serious — a very serious — look at the opportunity available right now,” Mills said. “Interest rates, as you guys know, are at 10-year lows. The 10-year Treasury as of now is at like 1.4 (percent). The opportunity is not going to get any better than this,” said Mills, whose business is a financial planning and management.

“There are a lot of things and a lot of priorities that we’ve submitted over the years that we just don’t have the money to do… And we’ve talked about this over 10 years. I know Ray has brought it to you guys before. But I really just kind of feel like it’s died on the vine,” Mills said.

“Our hands really are tied,” he said. Funds from community benefit agreements with solar energy providers are great, he said, but they are insufficient to do the kind of projects that need to be done. Matching grants are also great, he said, but you’ve got to have money in order to get the matching grants. Without having the money, there’s no matching grant, he said.

“Other townships around the island…have done a really good job with these parks through the through the use of bonds. So that’s kind of where we stand,” Mills said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the town board liaison to the Recreation Advisory Committee, said she supports the idea of lights at Veterans Memorial Park and believes the town should “look at” bonding to pay for it, but it has to be analyzed in the context of the town’s other capital funding needs, including the proposed town square on East Main Street and addressing the inadequate justice court facility.

The town board this year authorized$5.5 million in bonding to finance the acquisition of three properties on East Main Street for the creation of a town square.

The board has also been discussing for many, many years ways to address the inadequate town justice court facility.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has had severe economic impacts on taxpayers as well as the town government, Kent said she would like the advice of the town financial administrator William Rothaar.

“I think it’s something we should look at. I don’t know what anyone else on the board thinks about it.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar thanked the recreation department and the advisory committee for their presentation. She told Kent that as town board liaison to the advisory committee, she can make a proposal to the board at any time.

“And this has to be a town board effort. Any effort that takes place, it’s the entire town board. It’s five of us and one individual cannot just promote an effort on their own,” Aguiar said. “And any decision that’s made is made together, cohesively. We’ll look at the finances. We’ll see where we stand financially. And it will be looked at. And again, thank you and have a good day,” Aguiar said.

“Of course we’re a board of five and going to discuss everything,” Kent replied, “and obviously what I’m saying is we need to look at it financially, because these are these are challenging times.”

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