Q: Can you please tell me why you are the candidate best suited to handling the town's debt over the course of the next few years?
Angela DeVito: I will focus on the operating debt and how we can improve our revenue streams. My opponent has focused on defining the problem for the past four years. I believe we must reach out to both the county and the state for assistance, at least for the next five years, something my opponent is has not done. I also will pursue to the greatest extent feasible partnerships with local municipalities on the East End to share services, reducing our part and thereby saving general operating funds.
It is imperative we seek property tax dollars for the thousands of acres of land in our town. There is a real property tax law provision for such payments and we need to pursue this avenue. Even if the payment is not for full assessment, it will represent growth in assessed properties and an additional source of funding that can be applied to the town's general operating fund in future years.
I also would review our fee services such as fire inspection and code enforcement for new and renovated construction on sites greater than 5,000 square feet. Our town inspectors spend hundreds of hours at each phase of construction/renovation on large sites and the town gets no fees whatsoever for these services. We are allowed by law to charge for such and we should explore this additional revenue stream. These creative approaches to growing the general operating fund without increasing residential property taxes makes me the better qualified candidate.
2) Can you outline why you think Enterprise Park at Calverton is critical to Riverhead's future?
Sean Walter: The former Grumman property was the place that helped land a man on the moon and we will innovate there again to make EPCAL into the region's greatest economic engine. Our town desperately needs new revenue and EPCAL will be the place it will come from.
Angela DeVito: EPCAL is a part of our future. I believe the potential of this gift to offset local property tax hikes is significant. Given these beliefs, I must state that we need to proceed with development that is clean, green and in sync with our unique heritage. The revenues that can be realized by quick land sales — the direction suggested by Sean Walter's mortgaging scheme and rush to subdivide and offer parcels on the real estate selling block — will help us for the next several years but provide no real commitment to development on the remaining available acres.
I have hesitated to offer a solution to development for a variety of reasons. That does not mean I do not have some ideas about how I would want to see the site developed. Start with a solar farm. Suffolk County has "farmed" its sites and is realizing millions in new revenue. We can lease the land (rental income) and then get a portion of the profits made by selling off the power to LIPA (profit sharing); we can also consider negotiating a portion of our power profits to help decrease the costs of start-up business.
Another suggestion for EPCAL is to entice start-up industries that produce the products that are the result of research at Brookhaven National Lab, the State University of New York Stony Brook, and Cold Spring Harbor. These facilities do not have the capacity for manufacturing, or to apply their scientific research — why not have EPCAL become the companion hub to their work? I believe this is worth exploring. Why have the applied science go off Island, when we can collaborate right here in their backyards?
EPCAL is an integral part of our future. It represents an opportunity to entice industries and start-up business enterprises that can offer employment, from entry level jobs to executive level careers to our residents, current and future.
We must integrate any development plan with a strategy to ensure our residents have the requisite skills and qualifications to satisfy the workforce needs of the developed site. The town needs to see the importance of workforce development not only for the current working population, but for that of the future, our children in our schools. A partnership with BOCES, Suffolk Community College, and Riverhead Central School District is a must for our future.
3) What do you have to say about what some see as escalating crime in Riverhead? How do you think downtown revitalization can proceed with this negative public perception?
Sean Walter: First, on public perception: We are building a downtown filled with new shops and family friendly activities and as more people visit our bustling downtown they will see Riverhead is a great place to be and that will change the feeling people may have had in the past about downtown.
As for crime, while we take seriously every crime to person or property, statistics show downtown is a very safe place to be, bearing that in mind we still have increased foot patrols and take other steps to ensure proper policing.
Angela Devito: It appears that crime is on the rise. There are rumors that gang activity, particularly MS-13, is resident in Riverhead. I believe that downtown revitalization will proceed in a positive fashion if we implement several steps simultaneously:
- Identify family fun activities that can occur downtown. Focus on Grangebel Park and the waterfront on the weekends.
- Also ask that family-centered businesses remain open, especially on Sundays, so families can come downtown and have something to do.
- Work with the Suffolk Theater to establish real children’s theater, similar to that found at Gateway and elsewhere.
- Sponsor street fairs such as Patchogue’s “Alive at Five”, closing down East Main Street, east of Roanoke Avenue to all but pedestrian traffic. Focus on Sunday afternoons.
- At the same time, work with the Town of Southampton on their revitalization effort, cleaning out their drug dealers and prostitutes as a coordinated police activity.
- Establish a long-term police and public safety program for downtown that goes beyond placement of more police officers and setting up cameras. Improved deployment and management of our police force is a must
- Craft a plan for apartment housing that is truly affordable.
4) How do you plan to keep revitalization moving forward downtown? What incentives do you hope to offer new business owners?
Sean Walter: We never stop trying to improve downtown. Working alongside the Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce, look at the grant we just received for new lights or the traffic study that is in progress as we speak. The battle to change downtown is a top priority for this administration and we will not rest in our efforts to bring Main Street back.
Angela DeVito: The Riverhead Industrial Development Agency inducements are too expensive for start-up mom and pop shops. It costs $4000 to apply and closing fees for the business developer can run as much as $20,000 — costs too prohibitive for small, start-up business owners.
I would search out “Main Street” money to induce business to our downtown — even more than our Community Development Agency currently pulls in. I would make this search a priority.
But before any of these, I would develop a sense of what we want our “finished” downtown to look like. I would assemble a team of urban planners, architects, real estate dealers, financiers, developers, environmentalists, marine specialists, legal advisors, traffic specialists, marketing gurus, and members of our business community to review what has been proposed with previous studies as background and to craft a final plan that can be successfully marketed. The plan should be all inclusive, with infrastructure, traffic, parking issues all addressed.
What would I like downtown to look like? I believe a focus on unique and affordable restaurants, small boutique shops, young family oriented stores, with an anchor retail grocery store such as Whole Foods, Fairway Markets, IGA, or Trader Joe’s, as well as service shops for downtown residents.
5) What would you say to detractors who are livid over the clear cutting on Route 58?
Sean Walter: I would say I hear you loud and clear. Frankly, we blew it on Route 58. We can finger point as to whether the planning board or the town board is at fault but the buck stops at Town Hall, and so it is our responsibility to make it better. When the problem was identified, we moved quickly to make it right. We have made plans to replant mature trees and build up berms. We have re-written code and regulations so that something like this won't happen again. An error doesn't become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it. We learned from this error.
Angela DeVito: We all know that what has happened cannot be undone. We cannot go back and change history. However, the outstanding quality of life issues can and must be addressed — noise control, scenic vistas, night lighting, privacy, and safety and security. And this would be my promise to these individuals — to pursue, with their continued input, these issues.
On another note, I would look at the course of events relating to Costco and make sure future site plan development reviews and approvals do not repeat the mistakes made with this particular project.
It is imperative that the town supervisor and town board communicate with the planning department staff on all projects. Although little direct communication takes place with the planning board, there needs to be some accountability established — and the only accountability of the ultimate — the ballot vote, which the planning board is exempt from.
6) What do you think are the greatest challenges facing Riverhead?
Sean Walter: We need to take advantage of the great opportunity the recently passed landmark EPCAL legislation gives us to properly develop that site as a place for new jobs and clean commerce. Building our tax base, continuing to build our downtown and protecting our quality of life are the challenges ahead.
Angela DeVito: Very basic: Revenue streams; infrastructure; balance between development and land preservation; meeting new and maintaining town services without growing the workforce
7) How do you proposed to solve them?
Sean Walter: By having a plan. Be it the strides we've made downtown. Passage of one-of-a-kind EPCAL legislation in Albany or the way we have pruned the size of town government, this administration has crafted solutions that work today and are building a path to tomorrow.
Angela DeVito: Revenue stream. Infrastructure: Cooperative programs with county and state; grants. Internal focus group that will examine the impact of both aspects of our local government activities. Work with agencies such as the Suffolk County Correctional Facility for many work functions, such as park maintenance, street cleaning, litter pick-up, physical property repairs. Also consider establishing a “community pride” program that parallels that of the Town of Babylon.
8) What are the single most important moves elected officials can take, to help protect the environment?
Sean Walter: Protection of farmland and open space, the diligent enforcement of environmental law and measuring the environmental impact of every new project proposed.
Angela DeVito: There is no simple solution to the continued assault on our environment. If we look at nitrogen loading in our waterways, we need to establish integrated pest management plans townwide and enforce. However, I would see it as advantageous to establish a town environmental committee that works in conjunction with our citizens' advisory committees.
9) Do you think Riverhead and Southampton need to work hand in hand to help eradicate Riverside blight, create a new sewer district, and, in turn, promote downtown Riverhead revitalization?
Sean Walter: We should always find common ground where we can with our South Fork neighbor. I maintain an excellent working relationship Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and we continue to explore initiatives that will improve both sides of the river.
Angela DeVito: Yes, to all. That is what I have proposed.
10) Why should voters choose you at the polls?
Sean Walter: In a difficult economy, burdened by long-term debt, not of our creation, we have moved Riverhead forward. Downtown isn't where we want it yet, but we are much better off than we were. When others said it couldn't be done, we passed landmark legislation in Albany and have put EPCAL on the map as an economic development project of regional significance. We have cut the size of government and we are ready to face the future running. Others have been quick to criticize or to find fault, but measure their words by our real results.
Angela DeVito: Voters should choose me for several reasons:
- I am not a career politician.
- I believe that the right solution, regardless of party affiliation, is what must be the focus of all local government policy and practice.
- I have 30+ years experience in the public sector.
- I am not arrogant, giving in to my temper when it is convenient.
- I am creative, open-minded, honest, intelligent.
- I believe in transparency and accountability at all levels of local government.
- I know the difference between politics and governance.
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