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Riverhead's proposed 2015 town budget includes revenues not yet guaranteed

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has proposed a

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has proposed a $53.8 million 2015 budget that taps several one-shot revenues -- some of which are not guaranteed to materialize -- in order to close a budget shortfall without resorting to a double-digit tax hike, layoffs or borrowing. He is shown on Aug. 22, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has proposed a $53.8 million 2015 budget that taps several one-shot revenues -- some of which are not guaranteed to materialize -- in order to close a budget shortfall without resorting to a double-digit tax hike, layoffs or borrowing.

The budget relies on $750,000 in payments from two contracts, still under negotiation, with energy companies seeking to develop town property in the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

It also includes $300,000 in hoped-for payments from solar-energy company sPower, which is seeking to develop a project on 40 acres in Calverton, Walter said.

And it includes $775,000 from the pending sales of two town properties: the Second Street firehouse and the East Lawn office building.

"This was probably the most difficult budget we've had to do," Walter said Friday.

The supervisor's budget, which requires ratification by the town board, cuts spending by about $800,000, primarily as a result of 11 employee retirements, many of which are tied to an incentive offered in May.

Three of those are police officers who will be replaced with lower-paid, entry-level officers, town officials said.

The budget increases the amount of money the town raises in property taxes by 2.1 percent -- within the state's cap for the town. That translates to a hike of about $13 for a house worth $300,000.

One-shot infusions of cash in the budget include $700,000 from reserves and $600,000 in funds from a Suffolk County water-quality program, which Walter said he believes the town is entitled to but has not secured.

Some members of Riverhead's all-Republican town board were critical of the budget from Walter, also a Republican.

"We have a structural deficit. We're not doing anything by using one-shot revenues," Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Friday.

Giglio said she wants to cut four positions: one from the town attorney's office, two from the accounting department and the deputy supervisor's job.

Councilman George Gabrielsen, though, said one-shots are acceptable because he believes the town will see new income next year as it signs contracts with energy companies and sells or leases parts of the Enterprise Park at Calverton. "I think it's the best we could do with what we had," he said.

Walter blames the budget gap on roughly $4 million in annual debt payments related to a $52 million landfill-closure project from the 2000s. Riverhead for years has tapped reserves to cover the gap, rather than significantly hiking taxes, but no longer has enough in reserve, town officials said.

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