Riverhead is considering new surcharges on common town code violations.

Riverhead is considering new surcharges on common town code violations. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Riverhead is considering new surcharges on common town code violations, with plans to use the funds generated for the town's beautification and water quality projects as well as its anti-drug programs. 

Those found guilty of civil violations in town court could face fees between $65 and $250, according to assistant town attorney Danielle Hurley, who helped draft the proposed code amendment, which also seeks to curtail recidivism. 

The surcharges imposed would be in addition to potential fines for each violation.

Currently, fines collected from justice court are streamed into the town’s general fund. 

“The goal is to basically link up the violation to a corresponding remedial and restorative fund,” Hurley said at a town meeting July 13.

Violations would cover the following categories, according to the draft legislation:

  • Residents who excavate without a permit, clear land too close to wetlands or violate stormwater management rules, would be fined $250. Funds would go toward educational programs, pilot programs to test new technology, water sampling and testing.
  • Property maintenance violations like illegal or overcrowded rentals, commercial littering, graffiti, littering and shopping cart violations would be subject to blight mitigation surcharges of either $65 or $100, depending on the infraction. Funds would boost beautification projects.
  • Fees collected from violations, including drinking alcohol in public, loitering or public urination would incur a $65 surcharge to be used toward alcohol and substance abuse programs, mental health and wellness programs and recreation.

Town Attorney Erik Howard said in a July 14 interview the most commonly issued violations by town code enforcement officers are for failing to get rental permits, certificates of occupancy and building permits, or for littering and property maintenance charges, including failure to trim grass and weeds.

Officials did not speculate how much each of the funds would generate.

Data that Howard provided shows that in the past six months, there have been 101 guilty pleas in town court for open container and public urination charges. Those charges would generate $6,565 if the surcharge were in place. In the same period, there were 36 pleas for rental permit violations, which would generate $3,600 in surcharges.

A hearing on the proposed surcharges is set for Aug. 1.

Town code violations are typically written by code enforcement officers or Riverhead police officers.

Officials did not discuss whether enforcement would be increased to look out for such violations.

Councilman Tim Hubbard advocated for the surcharges as a way to pay for projects that may have support from board members, but lack the necessary funding.

Hubbard said a key part of the legislation is ensuring the surcharges are mandatory, unlike fines that are set at the discretion of town justices.

“Sometimes it’s like Monty Hall, 'Let’s Make a Deal' in court over there,” he said, referring to the popular game show where contestants strike deals with a host to win prizes.

Howard said the funds would function like a savings account with earmarked purposes. “It’s not going to be right away,” he cautioned. “It’s going to take some time to build this up.”

The charges wouldn’t apply to every town code violation.

“The intent isn’t for the town to get rich off of this, but it does help us with some of the issues,” Hubbard said.

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