1) What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Riverhead Town — and how would you solve them?
John Dunleavy (incumbent, R, C) First the development of EPCAL. We have to subdivide the property and request grants to help with infrastructure for businesses to locate there. Second challenge is managing our debt. Focus on minimum increases in taxes. Must work with what we have and no further bonding.
Jodi Giglio (Incumbent, R, I): The biggest challenge facing Riverhead is our structural deficit due to the reclamation of the landfill and the debt of the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for acquisition of open space. We must complete the subdivision of EPCAL and market the land in order to pay the bill. We must increase revenue by enforcing our town code when it comes to quality of life issues. We must continue to hold the line on spending by evaluating every request for spending and find alternative ways to accomplish goals to save money; e.g., sanitation contract and phone lines that have not been used resulting in savings to the taxpayers. On the campaign trail the biggest complaint I have received is overcrowded housing. We need to engage our police department and think of ways to better enforce these types of abuse of our system.
Millie Thomas (D, WF):
Riverhead Town is broke. We have a huge deficit of $121 million. We need to review the budget and cut spending wherever we can without cutting jobs. Make each department accountable for their own budget. Work on getting our fair share from sales tax that we are collecting but not getting from the big box stores. We need to bring in more revenue and jobs from EPCAL. Also, lots of money is necessary to improve the infrastructure at EPCAL. I would like to see clean green development like solar and wind power. Lots of money is necessary to improve the infrastructure in EPCAL. We need to speak to county, state and federal officials to get as much money as we can from grants and funds available to us. Work on luring technology and research and development companies to encourage higher paying jobs. Our young people are moving away because we don’t have jobs for them in our area.
Bill Bianchi (D, WF, I): Our biggest challenge is to keep our taxes low. To keep these taxes low we cannot continue to operate the town in a deficit. Our auditors say that we are spending more money than we take in. This must stop. Currently, the town debt needs to be addressed and not by taking out another mortgage. I will scrutinize the budget trimming it where we can, without cutting town services. Then we must make sure that the commercial properties are assessed properly and paying their fair share. We must get our fair share of taxes from Albany and I will do that. I will investigate the possibility of tapping into sales tax revenues. If you don’t try you will never know.
2) How do you plan to keep development moving forward downtown?
John Dunleavy: We must encourage new businesses to come to town and streamline the permit process. We must work with the Business Improvement District in their search for new business ventures.
Jodi Giglio: When a problem arises, I will continue to assist to find the answers. I will work closely with property owners and interested investors to promote Riverhead in positive way. We can do this by increasing police presence and promoting safety downtown. I am currently working on legislation that will focus on vacant stores and the appearance thereof. We are seeking request for security cameras downtown. Interested investors purchasing property in Riverhead will be contributing to our CPF fund and will establish stability to pay the debt of that fund.
Millie Thomas: Increase marketing by directing tourists to our downtown stores and attractions by increasing signs and brochures in strategic places directing tourists to our downtown. Encourage residents to patronize our downtown stores to help increase business. Get landlords to clean up their buildings and give incentives for new tenants. Work with banks to give low interest rate loans to businesses that want to start up downtown. There may be grants for repairing sidewalks that are uneven, unifying signs and planting flowers in season.
Bill Bianchi: To revitalize downtown we must strive to occupy these properties. We must bring family friendly attractions and businesses and that will attract the foot traffic on Main Street. A plan must be designed to market our beautiful Peconic River and downtown area. We can see if landlords will subdivide some of the larger stores so that different types businesses can come into town. There must be incentives to attract these businesses and we must make sure that people feel safe and welcomed in our great Town.
3) The issue of crime is a hot button topic right now. What do you think needs to be done to address crime, and to keep it from damaging all the hard work the town has put into revitalization?
John Dunleavy: This administration has placed foot patrols on Main Street during business hours and a patrol vehicle at night. I am in favor of placing cameras in the parking areas and on Main Street as a deterrent and as an investigation tool.
Jodi Giglio: The town is currently requesting proposals for security cameras. As per my recommendation this past Thursday at work session, the town attorney’s office will reach out to various security companies to make them aware of the request. The more options to choose from the better the ability for the town to achieve a positive end result at a minimal cost. We will continue to fund additional police presence downtown. By promoting a historic district on Second Street, we will create a desirable community for business start up and will eliminate overcrowded rental housing.
Millie Thomas: Increase police that walk the downtown streets. We can get more police to walk downtown if the stores on Rt. 58 increase their own security. That would give our town police more time for downtown protection. Our police do a great job but they have to cover a large area. Get code enforcement to go after illegal apartments that not only need to be cleaned up but are overcrowded and not safe. Get loiterers off the streets.
Bill Bianchi: The obvious solution is to increase police presence downtown and throughout the township. So the first question that comes to mind is, “how to pay for this” especially when the town is operating at a deficit. We have one of the finest police departments in Suffolk County. They are spread very thin and need additional equipment. To offset these expenses I would propose a commercial taxing district on all the new and existing commercial properties especially those on Route 58. It is these businesses that are putting the strain on our town services and I do not want to see these additional costs picked up by our residential taxpayers.
4) How would you like to see the future of EPCAL unfold?
John Dunleavy: I would like to see more industry, with moderate income jobs, come to EPCAL and become an active source of employment and financial stability in our town.
Jodi Giglio: We need to stay on track with the completion of the subdivision. When it is complete, we will have a better understanding of the types of businesses that would like to locate/expand there and what the market value of the acreage will be. We will work with our state officials to provide the infrastructure and work toward an equity partnership with interested investors.
Millie Thomas: See Question Number 1.
Bill Bianchi: The issues that need to be addressed at EPCAL are the infrastructure problems, the energy costs, and the environmental concerns. There are certainly infinite possibilities on this site. Utility costs are the highest in the nation. We must explore alternate solutions to this problem. The businesses we want to attract and encourage are high tech, small product businesses that will create good jobs. We must partner with the state to market this land and attract the right kinds of usage of this site always being mindful to keep these improvements clean and green.
5) Do you think Southampton and Riverhead need to work together on the Riverside sewer district issue? Why or why not?
John Dunleavy: I believe that Southampton is responsible for their sewage needs. It is not fiscally wise for Riverhead Town to take on the added sewage treatment costs that our sewage district would incur if we were to partner with Southampton.
Jodi Giglio: I think the revitalization of Riverside is vital to quality of life issues in downtown Riverhead. The Town of Riverhead is currently required to upgrade our sewer district at a cost of $22 million. We currently have a grant from the County of Suffolk for $8 million. We must focus on Riverhead’s sewer district problem before addressing other townships' problems.
Millie Thomas: I believe that connecting a Riverside sewer to our Riverhead plant is not practical. We have limited capacity as it is and what remains should be used for the anticipated downtown growth. A smaller district should be made by Southampton Town to reduce contaminants flowing into the Peconic River and that would also help revitalize Riverside.
Bill Bianchi: I believe that the Town of Southampton should create their own sewer district and build their own sewer treatment plant. They have more resources to do so and we can keep our plants from running at capacity levels.
6) Do you think the clear cutting of such a large swath of trees on Rt. 58 was a mistake? How would you prevent this from happening again?
John Dunleavy: Yes, it was an unfortunate mistake due to the outdated code that the planning board was following. As result the town board now has taken action to revise the code for the removal of trees.
Jodi Giglio: The clear-cutting of trees abutting residential properties in definitely one of the quality of life issues we need to stay focused on. The town board has adopted legislation calling for public hearings for all site plans where adjoining property owners will be notified upon any proposed activity. Additionally, the town board has just adopted legislation requiring non-disturbance buffers for developments that abut residentially zoned properties and uses.
Millie Thomas: The clearing of 42 acres of trees was a disgrace. My opponents have said that this was done to code. If that is the case, the code needs to be changed. There must be a wooded buffer between stores and residential properties to ensure residents quality of life as well as for their safety. Natural buffers are the best. The town board must be able to work more closely with the planning board on projects like these in order to prevent this from happening again.
Bill Bianchi: This was certainly something that should not have been done. It is yet another example of the way the current town board operates. There is very little communication in Town Hall. There is no accountability between departments, only infighting. First, our rural way of life is being threatened by these actions; there is no thought process to protect our open lands and environment. Then the adjoining land owners should have been a consideration. If the town board watched what the planning board was doing this whole debacle could have been avoided. I would definitely make sure that all town departments reported directly to the town board.
7) Why should voters choose you, over the other candidates, on Election Day?
John Dunleavy: I am aware of and on top of the issues that face this town. I have worked diligently to reduce our debt and through my personal efforts brought over $8 million over the past eight years to this town. I am a dedicated and visible councilman and have a record of availability to meet with my constituents.
Jodi Giglio: I have stayed true to my promise of fighting for Riverhead taxpayers. I took on the rewrite of our sanitation code and carting contract which resulted in a $2 million saving townwide. Our carter is now required to report to the state the amount of recyclables in household garbage which results in a 20 percent revenue of those recyclables to the Town of Riverhead. By conducting a phone audit of our systems, we realized we were paying for phone lines we were not using. This resulted in a refund from Verizon equating to $75,000. Those savings will exist going forward. I will continue conversations with the FAA as to why EPCAL is the only place for them to relocate an integrated $225 million facility. I voted "no" to an automatic $1800 pay raise to myself. I will always put taxpayers first in all the decisions I make above party politics. I don’t think it’s right for politicians to be voting themselves a pay raise while our families are still struggling. I always have been and always will be available to every taxpayer. I am vested and love this town, which is why I ran for office.
Millie Thomas: I have a proven track record of being a good business person. I have served our local town as a realtor for over 21 years. My company was able to survive and thrive while the real estate industry was devastated in the recent recession. My agents are still able to make money for their families. I am extremely proud to say that I am the broker of Landmark Realty of L.I., Inc. in Wading River and we currently rank in the top 10 percent in volume of closed sales in all of Suffolk County. It took hard work, good management skills, budgeting skills and teamwork to accomplish this. I would like to bring my skills to help our town. I have served as an officer of the Wading River-Shoreham Chamber of Commerce since 1993 and I have been a director, an officer and a past president of the L.I. Board of Realtors North Shore Chapter. I have conducted many board meetings and I feel that I can bring more professionalism to our town board.
Bill Bianchi: First and foremost is my experience. I served this great state in Albany for 22 years. I have the know-how to make things happen. I can work across party lines to get things done, and I will. I am a hardworking man of integrity, responsibility, honesty, independence and reliability who will put people first. It’s people, not politics, that count!
8) If you win the race, what is the first thing you plan to do in office?
John Dunleavy: I plan to ask my colleagues on the board to ask every department head to cut expenses by 10 percent of the amount budgeted for next year. I recognize this will not be received favorably but I also believe every employee must share the burden. I must commend the muncipal employees union for taking the lead in this request.
Jodi Giglio: I will continue to pursue an audit of our cell tower users on town property and renegotiate those leases which are expected to increase our rent revenue by approximately 20 percent. Additionally, I am working on a request for proposal for an update to our phone system that will result in efficiency in town government and a savings of nearly $205,000 over a five-year period. The creation of a National Historic District along Second Street in downtown, Sound Avenue, and along Main Road in Jamesport is something I have been working on with representatives of the Landmark Preservation Committee. As liaison to the Peconic Estuary Technical Advisory Committee, I will continue to work and promote projects that improve our water quality. I am the founder of the Alternative Transportation Committee and am working to complete the recreation trail at EPCAL and to establish new trails throughout the town for hiking.
Millie Thomas: The first thing that I will do If I win this race is to meet with the supervisor and the heads of each department to go over the budget and discuss plans for the marketing of EPCAL.
Bill Bianchi: The first thing I would do as your town councilman is to have a meeting with all my colleagues to come up with a plan to address the town financing problems and our $122 million debt, along with our continual annual operating deficit.