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Riverhead workers battle job cuts in budget proposal

Riverhead town hall was filled with people wearing red and blue last night, protesters opposing job cuts in Supervisor Sean Walter's proposed 2011 budget.

There were about 30 volunteer firefighters in formal dress blue uniforms, there to complain about a plan to lay off one of the town's two fire marshals, a cut they said would endanger town residents and delay fire safety inspections.

There were an equal number of Civil Service Employees Association members, town employees wearing red union shirts who said none of the proposed 13 layoffs - six full-time and seven part-time - should take place.

"Shame on you for not coming and talking to the union first," said Stephanie Teff, a labor relations specialist for the CSEA. "Maybe there are other ways to fill whatever hole you have."

Sean McCabe, an animal control officer, said he was in Florida on vacation with his family when he learned that he would be losing his job, and was one of about a dozen who were called to a meeting at town hall for formal notification.

"I've lived here for 55 years. I've raised two kids," said the former fire chief who is now one of two animal control officers who answer calls seven days a week. "You have 85 cops, there are two of us," he said. "Last year, you had a public vote for the dispatchers."

In 2009, then-Supervisor Phil Cardinale proposed eliminating the nine town police dispatcher jobs after learning Suffolk County would provide the service for free. Walter, his opponent, supported a referendum to keep those jobs.

But after the referendum passed and Walter took office, he had to add $910,000 to the town budget to cover those jobs. That, plus hiring two police officers, doubled what would have been a 2.9 percent tax increase.

Walter's proposed 2011 budget is about $1 million less than the current one, but would raise town taxes by 4.36 percent, adding $114 a year to a house assessed at $60,000.

The supervisor said it was now up to the entire town board to change the budget if they choose to, and to adopt it by Nov. 20.

Several town board members listened carefully to the protesters, and some, like Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, discussed figures such as the number of annual inspections by the fire marshals.

"No one wants to fire anybody," Councilman John Dunleavy said Wednesday. He added that it would take about $400,000 to eliminate all the layoffs, and said the only way to come up with that money was if Riverhead Resorts comes through with an anticipated $3.9 million by Nov. 3.

Riverhead Resorts, which wants to purchase 755 acres of town-owned land at Calverton to build a themed resort park, owes Riverhead Town about $6 million in payments to extend its closing date, and has negotiated a delay that allows the firm until Nov. 3 to give the town a nonrefundable $3.9 million.

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