Supervisor Yvette Aguiar at a Town Board meeting in June. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar is proposing a nearly $3 million spending increase, or 4.9%, in the three town-wide funds in 2023, requiring the town to pierce the 2% tax levy cap imposed by state law. The tax levy for the three town-wide funds —the general fund, the highway fund and the street-lighting fund — would increase 3.3%.

The tax rate will increase from the current $57.204 per $1,000 of assessed value to $58.921 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 3% hike.

The tax rate increase will raise an “average” home’s tax bill by $85.85. An average home has an assessed value of $50,000 (market value $493,096), according to the supervisor’s budget message.

The 2023 total spending plan — including spending that is not assessed town-wide — comes in just over $103 million, a 3% increase from the $100 million budget adopted last year, with a estimated revenues of $45.7 million and the appropriation of nearly $4 million from fund balances in the sewer, scavenger waste and water districts.

“Forecasting the 2023 budget was complicated by the subsequent effects and unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic,” Aguiar wrote in a letter to the Town Board accompanying her tentative budget, which was filed with the town clerk on Friday. “Furthermore, we are currently experiencing unstable economic times. Consequently, our commodities, supplies and maintenance costs have increased upwards of 30%, in some areas.”

Aguiar said in the letter that the budget does not propose eliminating any services, staff or programs. Funding has also been included to pay for leaf pickup for residents, Aguiar said. 

The total general fund budget, which covers most general operating expenses of town government, including the police department, comes in at over $54.9 million under the spending plan — a 4.68% increase over the 2022 adopted budget. The town would levy an additional $1.3 million for the general fund — an increase of 3.23% over last year.

The police department’s budget would increase $629,900 to $17,757,700, a 3.55% increase. 

The highway fund, which covers the expenses of the repairs and maintenance of town roads and sidewalks, comes in just under $7.2 million — an 8.1% increase over the 2022 adopted budget. 

The street lighting district fund, which covers the cost of purchasing, maintaining, repairing and operating street lights and traffic signals in town, is proposed at just under $1.2 million, a slight reduction in funding from the previous year’s adopted budget.

“With an emphasis on public safety, the 2023 Tentative Budget proposes the addition of seven police officers to the Riverhead Police Force (expanding the department) and five Public Safety Dispatchers (one dedicated as an EMS dispatcher),” Aguiar, a former NYPD sergeant, wrote. “We have also invested in equipment to support the growth of the Riverhead Police Department.”

Several departments made requests for funding that went unfulfilled, including the police department, which requested more than $19.5 million. In addition, the budgets of a few other lines would be slashed, including the juvenile aid bureau, which would decrease by around 32% — even though the department requested a $80,000 budget boost.

Under the budget plan, all elected officials other than the supervisor and council members, would receive an increase to their annual salary of around $4,200, with the highway superintendent and the chairperson of the board of assessors receiving a slightly higher raise.

“I am confident this budget funds the most critical Town projects and provides the staffing support needed to maintain the services important to the community and vital to Town Operations,” Aguiar wrote in the letter.

The town supervisor is required to file a budget proposal with the town clerk on or before Sept. 30, before which the supervisor is required to obtain and review estimates and recommendations from all department heads in preparing the document. 

After the budget is filed, the town clerk is required to present the proposal — known as the tentative budget — to the Town Board at a regular or special meeting on or before Oct. 5. The Town Board is then required to review the budget and revise it as they see fit. 

After the Town Board completes its review and approves any changes it deems advisable, the tentative budget and any changes made by the town board become the preliminary budget. If the board does not make any changes to the tentative budget, the tentative budget becomes the preliminary budget.

The Town Board is required to hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget, showing any changes made by the board, on or before the Thursday immediately following the general election. The general election year is Tuesday, Nov. 8, so the Town Board is required to hold a hearing on the preliminary budget on or before Thursday, Nov. 10.

After the public hearing, the Town Board may make additional changes to the preliminary budget and then adopt it by resolution on or before Nov. 20. The adopted is then known as the annual budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1.

To adopt a budget that exceeds the 2% tax levy cap, the Town Board, with a supermajority vote, must pass a local law overriding the tax levy limit.

In the event the town board fails to adopt a budget by Nov. 20, the preliminary budget, as amended by prior resolution of the town board, becomes the annual budget for the next fiscal year.

The property taxes in Riverhead’s municipal budget represent roughly 34% of the total property taxes collected in Riverhead. Around 58% goes towards the school and library districts, around 4.3% goes towards the fire districts and around 2.8% goes to Suffolk County.

Editor’s note: This article’s headline has been amended post-publication to more clearly reflect the contents of the story.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.