Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Council Member Ken Rothwell were at odds over amendments to the supervisor's tentative budget proposed by council members. Photo: alek Lewis

The Riverhead Town Board is considering six amendments to the 2023 proposed budget, to the ire of Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who said the changes should have been raised while she was compiling her tentative budget.

The amendments put money in the budget to give a raise to Town Board Coordinator Carol Sclafani, add a fire inspector position to the fire marshal’s office, add two automotive equipment operators to the highway department, pay for the cost of electricity at the proposed ice rink at Veterans Memorial Park, increase the salary of a wastewater treatment plant operator, and divert money away from a sewer budget line to maintain the town’s fund balance in accordance with its policy. 

The Town Board has the power to amend the supervisor’s tentative budget up until it is adopted by the board. The Town Board will vote at its meeting on Tuesday at 2 p.m. to amend the budget and will also hold a public hearing on the budget proposal.

The amendments appeared to have a majority of the board’s support when they were raised impromptu during the work session Thursday, but Aguiar was confrontational with her fellow board members and alleged she was blindsided by the changes. 

“I just want to make one statement. I went through an extensive review of our budget over the course of almost three months. I met with the board prior, once I started the review. I met with the board at the conclusion and nothing was raised. I submitted my budget soon thereafter, a few days later,” Aguiar said. The Town Board never held a public session where members discussed the 2023 budget before or after Aguiar’s proposal was filed with the town clerk. 

The conversation was sparked by the raise in Sclafani’s salary, which adds a total of $7,500 to her yearly pay, a 16% increase. (The resolution allocates $2,800 for Sclafani’s raise. Council Member Ken Rothwell said the board can’t calculate the full amount it needs to allocate in the budget for the raise until the town knows specifically how much Sclafani will receive through contractual raises.)

Sclafani has held the secretarial position of town board coordinator since after Aguiar entered office and was previously secretary to former Supervisor Sean Walter. She currently makes $45,844 per year in her current position. Sclafani received a 2.25% raise in 2021 and an 8% raise in 2022. 

“There were salary increases. The average salary increase in town for merit is 3.5%. Come January, the budget, there’ll be CSEA negotiation,” Aguiar said, referring to the union representing town employees. “Everybody is expected to receive possibly another 1.25[%] In addition, I also raised every employee’s salary here in the Town of Riverhead by 5%, except the Town Board declined to take a raise, but even the public officials who had never received a raise will also be closer than that,”

“This is Riverhead and the taxpayers salary and their budget; it’s not Tammany Hall. And this should have been discussed with me. There should have been — and the administrator evaluations are required. I have not received them. A couple of days ago, I heard that they wanted to make an adjustment. I said, ‘Okay, maybe we’ll keep it between the 3.5[%]. And now I’ve come before the Town Board. This is not the way that this town should manage their budget,” she said.

“We didn’t get the budget until you submitted it to us,” Rothwell said. “So there was no way to do any comparisons.”

“Everybody made recommendations. I met with you. If you wanted to give a certain individual a raise —” Aguiar said.

“We needed to see your budget to review what you did,” Rothwell interrupted. The Town Board officially received the supervisor’s budget proposal at its meeting on Oct. 4. “You put $20,000 alone in your staff in your office, with one person receiving a $10,000 raise. So don’t say it’s not fair to other people, that you can take care of your own, but not others.”

Aguiar denied the increase to the salary of her office’s staff, although Financial Administrator William Rothaar confirmed to the board that the supervisor had budgeted raises of just under $20,000.

“Okay, and we also have to note that one person has not received a raise in three years. We also have to know that my budget of last year, for people that were hired, were hired under,” Aguiar said. “So now I’m catching them up to my budget. Let me deal with my budget, and you should have a discussion with me. However the individual received two raises last year and an additional time the year before. Somewhere the bleeding’s got to stop. And again, this is not Tammany Hall.”

(Sclafani received one 8% raise last year. The board passed a resolution to amend her salary to $45,844 at the start of the year due to an “error” in the resolution setting salaries at the board’s reorganizational meeting.)

“I favor [$]7,500 for our coordinator,” Council Member Frank Beyrodt said. “I think she works hard and I think she needs to come up to speed. And if some day in the future she decides to retire, nobody’s going to take that job based on her salary right now. Nobody of good quality.”

“And it should have been done appropriately and not blindsided the supervisor behind the scenes,” Aguiar said. “I spoke to everyone as far as what we needed to get done, every department. And again, I haven’t seen it. So you’ll start with talking about two raises last year additional, before that additional time. And now just blindsided a supervisor with a budget —” 

“Nobody blindsided you,” Rothwell interrupted. “You walked around and you consulted with everybody. This is what we’ve been doing for the past month or two.” 

“But you have not consulted with me on that particular, on that particular — no one has. And so this is not the way the budget should be submitted, okay?” Aguiar said.

“I definitely consulted with you on this,” Council Member Tim Hubbard said. 

“Yes, just two days ago. Two days ago, saying that the board wants to, because you were leading the charge,” Aguiar said.

“And it’s a work session. That’s what this is for,” Hubbard said.

 “Alright. It’s politically motivated. In either case, we’re going to move up. I am going to put up the resolution and we’ll let it go to a vote,” Aguiar said.

Aguiar has been at odds with Hubbard and Rothwell, and accused the two board members of conspiring against her to run for her seat during an interview with RiverheadLOCAL in August. Both Hubbard and Rothwell adamantly deny working against Aguiar; only Hubbard said was considering a run for supervisor next year, when his four-year term as a council member expires.

“To Frank’s point, we will not get anybody with her experience or even somebody to take the job at the current salary. We’ve had that problem in other departments,” Council Member Bob Kern said.

Another amendment calls for allocating $196,000 in property taxes to budget for two automotive equipment operators in the town’s highway department. Hubbard said the board intended to add the staff after the town took over the responsibility of maintaining the roads at the Calverton Enterprise Park.

Aguiar said that matter was not brought up to her during conversations about the budget with the highway department. “I wish it was because we didn’t have to do a resolution, again, because that’s the purpose of going through this extensive process. It was brought to our attention. And then now it went in,” Aguiar said.

“The thing is you were willing to discuss it and add it to your budget. I mean, we as a board knew we wanted to do that, but it wasn’t brought up by the appropriate department head at the time. But I think [it’s a] learning mistake in that situation,” Hubbard said.

The board also intends to allocate $150,000 in property taxes for electricity to the ice rink proposed at Veterans Memorial Park, a requirement of the town’s contract with Peconic Hockey Foundation to build and manage the facility.

“And again, that wasn’t brought up to me,” said Aguiar, who voted in favor of authorizing the contract for the rink. “I understand that they were looking for community benefit money. And I thought maybe for the first year that’s where it should have gone so that we didn’t have to raise taxes. Again, it just came up a couple of days ago that we’re looking for $150,000.”

Rothwell interrupted: “It didn’t just come up a couple days ago. You can’t rely on grant money. And what if you don’t get the grant money, what are you going to do, close it down?” 

Hubbard said that because the $150,000 is going to the utility budget line, it is not appropriate to use money from a community benefits agreement, a one time payment, for an operational cost.

Another resolution would allocate $109,300 from the property taxes line of the budget to pay for a newly created fire inspector position in the fire marshal’s office.

“We’re looking to replace a fire marshal due to one leaving the job and then this is an addition to that, to add a fire inspector in next year’s budget to help them get caught up with their inspections,” Hubbard said.

“And hopefully they will,” Aguiar said with a laugh. “Cause they need to move up a little bit in their inspections.”

The board will also vote to allocate $75,000 from the sewer rents line of the budget to the fund balance reserve line. Rothaar said the town used money from the fund balance for Riverhead Sewer District projects and the transfer puts the town back at the 15% fund balance necessary for the town’s fund balance policy.

Another resolution allocates $5,800 from the sewer rents line to pay for a raise for a Calverton Sewer District wastewater treatment plant operator, who just recently received his certification to graduate as a trainee, according to Rothaar.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com