Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, stabilizing the town’s finances and strengthening code enforcement are among the goals Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar laid out for the town this week in the first State of the Town address of her term.
Aguiar, who delivered the speech Monday at Town Hall, said her first year in office has been complicated by several challenges, including the ongoing pandemic and its economic impact on Riverhead. Despite setbacks, Aguiar said she and the town board had made "significant progress and achieved many accomplishments together" moving into 2021.
"I am optimistic our new normal will commence this summer, and I am confident we will tackle any future obstacles presented, and we will rise above this pandemic," Aguiar said. "We will recover and emerge as a stronger, more unified community."
Among the accomplishments Aguiar’s address highlighted was the town having "led the charge" in Suffolk County in allowing restaurant owners to create temporary outdoor dining and open at 50% capacity prior to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reopening plan.
Though Riverhead projected a $1.8 million decrease in building application fees, state and county aid and Justice Court revenues due to the pandemic, Aguiar said the town mitigated such losses by cutting nonessential spending, placing holds on all promotions and limiting new hires. Lowering all town insurance policy premiums by $30,326 and saving $645,000 through renegotiating the Riverhead Town Police Superior Officers Association and Police Benevolent Association contracts enabled the town to cut its 2021 operating budget by 1.14 percent.
Aguiar said the COVID-19 outbreak "severely hindered" the town’s ability to address overcrowded housing due to evictions and the prohibiting of tenant removals under the state’s Safe Cares Act. However, the courts will commence issuing eviction orders after those restrictions expire May 31. Meanwhile, Riverhead will issue summonses to code violators while adjusting hours for code enforcement officers and adding another vehicle computer for efficiency, Aguiar said.
Looking ahead, Aguiar said the town plans to bolster its law enforcement presence by hiring 10 police officers.
In addition, the town anticipates the approval and completion of several Community Benefits Agreements would go toward creating more open space, funding training for the town’s four fire districts and ambulance corps, and creating study areas for Riverhead Students lacking Wi-Fi access at home for virtual learning.