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2012 STATE OF THE TOWN ADDRESS Delivered by Supervisor Sean Walter March 7, 2012 Hyatt East End Sea Star Ballroom, Riverhead I want to thank all of you for being here tonight for what we call the “State of the Town Address.” It is tradition for the sitting Supervisor to call this meeting, as a new spring dawns, to outline where this town is today and where we are going. When this administration took ofﬁce, it was anything but “spring” in Riverhead as our town was mired in debt. Riverhead was spending more than we took in taxes. Our town was relying on “one shot” funding sources to close our town’s deﬁcit. Our annuity at EPCAL was an unproductive ﬁeld of dreams yielding no new tax revenue and the place where all good ideas came to rest without bearing fruit. Our downtown was vacant and barren, the spirit on Main Street, bleak and beleaguered. Throughout my administration you have heard me use the phrase, “Positively Riverhead.” This is not a slogan or a catch phrase. “Positively Riverhead” is a state of the heart and the mind that represents the “can do” nature of our people and the way this town is moving forward - even in these challenging times. Tapping that positive energy and spirit and translating that love of community into policies and programs that are worthy of our people is the true test of government and the constant challenge before this town board. In the year ahead this town board intends to offer an aggressive agenda; to build on the successes of the past two years and to continue on the path towards a new Riverhead. Our agenda and legislative priorities for the New Year focus around three major issues: First, EPCAL: In Albany, in this legislative session, the State Senate and Assembly will consider our landmark legislation to create the EPCAL Planning Commission which will streamline the approvals process at EPCAL and allow us to finally properly market the former Grumman property. The EPCAL Planning Commission is modeled after the Pine Barrens Commission and the Adirondack Park Commission with one very important distinction…. The EPCAL Planning Commission will have as its central focus the economic development of EPCAL as a regional economic engine. The time has come for Riverhead to become the model for economic development for the State of New York. When we are done and this legislation is adopted, the entire State will be looking to Riverhead as the leader in economic development. We fully anticipate that our model will be replicated throughout New York. The key to our success will be that we will tap into all that is great in our region. Long Island is on the periphery of the world’s largest economic engine…New York City. The Long Island marketplace represents one of the most affluent demographic profiles in the nation. The EPCAL property is one of the largest undeveloped commercial sites on Long Island. We have a great work force; we have a major university at Stony Brook, we have world renowned resources such as Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold
Spring Harbor. In short, we have the tools and we have the place. Is there any reason we cannot bring the tech based, clean and green high paying jobs of the future right here to Riverhead? It is time for us to think bigger, to be bolder, to go back to our roots and innovate again at Calverton. The same zip code that preserved democracy by building the greatest warplanes the world has ever seen - the same zip code that expanded the American frontier by landing men on the moon, can, and will, be the place that will meet the challenges of the decades ahead. Inventors from IBM recently announced that they have successfully been able to process computer functions utilizing storage spaces just twelve atoms in size. This technology would make even the most “super” of silicon chips obsolete. Daily, we are treated to news of medical breakthroughs that will prolong the life of man. Mag Lev trains and green technology, the cutting edge of new energy sources and the ideas that will once again take us to the edge of our universe. These are the exciting new projects we will seek to attract to Riverhead. As Tesla experimented up the road in Rocky Point, as Einstein brainstormed while lazily sailing off Orient Point, as C.N. Yang pushed the envelope of physics a few exits away at Stony Brook, as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory unlocked the human genome and Lindbergh took flight from our shore, let the best minds, entrepreneurs, innovators and talents come change the future from Long Island at EPCAL. The nation needs to get back to the basics so that our future businesses will thrive. EPCAL will play a vital role in the resurrection of business in this town, state and country. In order to reach our goal of attracting good paying jobs for the future, we need to compete and make EPCAL attractive in the here and now. We will create the EPCAL Planning Commission which will approve or disapprove development projects in just 75 days. This, my friends, is not Grumman rocket science… nor is it even difficult. It simply takes intestinal fortitude and the realization that we must attract business to the region to survive. We intend to unite the voices of the Governor’s Office, the County Executive’s Office, the Department of Environmental Conservation and all necessary town and regional agencies so that we can clear our way through the permitting and regulatory “red tape” to make the process consistent, predictable and non-bureaucratic. Our goal is to subdivide EPCAL into smaller parcels that will be desirable launch pads for entrepreneurs ready to do business. We intend to finally give New York State what it has been begging for; a comprehensive environmental study at EPCAL which will protect the environment better than any town has ever done so in the history of the State of New York. When these goals are met we can throw down the gauntlet and compete with Southern California and Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, Princeton, New Jersey and yes, even Devens Massachusetts. With our skilled and educated work force, with our New York drive and with our New York “know how”, let those soft sleek lands hear our footsteps. With hard work, dogged determination and sheer will, EPCAL will become the place where good ideas come to grow.
Issue Two, Downtown: A heartwarming story of the past two years has been the resurgence we are experiencing downtown. Gone are the “futurama” artist’s renderings, the slick brochures and power points presentations. They have been replaced by real business innovators who “put their money where their mouth is” and have a real stake in the success of downtown. I pledged two years ago to get downtown moving again; to shake off the cobwebs, to brush aside the negativity and to hang out the “open for business” sign. I painted a vision for downtown to make Main Street a place for car shows and art shows, concerts and festivals. Downtown should be about fairs and parades, families and fun. Two years later, anyone who has been to Main Street has witnessed the transformation. Even in this challenging economy parents push baby strollers down Main Street and concert goers gather to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. “Pickers” rummage through town sponsored antique shows. Rag tag sailors paddle cardboard boats while literally thousands cheer them on. Flotillas dock on the Peconic to rock the river at our Blues Festival and concerts and children enjoy ice cream cones and face painting at Grangebel Park. It was said that a boat race will not revitalize a downtown, but I disagree because it is by people coming to enjoy the excitement of our downtown district and spending their dollars and telling their friends that we will build the business community… block-byblock and store-by-store …they are coming to downtown. Since we took office, we have opened the doors at the new Hyatt hotel, we have expanded the aquarium and The Riverhead Project opened and was named the top ranking new “Fine Dining” restaurant by Newsday. The Red Collection sells unique collectables, Off Main Market & Kitchen opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Long Island Brewery is Riverhead’s first beer brewery, Athen’s Grill and the Riverhead Grill reinvested in Main Street and Cody’s BBQ & Grill adds the spirit of a Texas barbeque on Main Street. The Dark Horse Restaurant gallops forward with a new private dining room and the Loo family is about to bring a Mexican flair to downtown. Soon, we will welcome Ralph’s Ice Cream and Ices to Main Street. Next door you can indulge at the Blue Duck Bakery and then you can work those calories off at Curves on Main Street or with a bicycle purchased from Nick at North Fork Bicycle. At a time when other downtowns are contracting, Riverhead is growing and this administration shall continue to pursue and recruit new businesses to downtown. In the coming year we will do what we have done the past two years: we will cajole, we will use shoe leather, we will burn the phone lines, we will use the internet, diplomacy, arm twisting and whatever it takes to “bang the drum” to show business owners that Riverhead is the new place to prosper - and at the risk of being labeled a stalker, I will not rest until we bring a movie theater to downtown! I cannot promise a big screen on Main Street but I pledge all I can do to make it happen. Issue Three, Town Finances:
Two years ago, our town’s finances were in shambles. The Town’s spending increased many times over the rate of inflation. Debt was choking us at our landfill. Our audits were incomplete. We were “flying blind” financially. We were unable to use money wisely because we could not sell bonds because we lacked financial audits. We foolishly authorized bonds to pay for everything from vehicles to keyless entry systems. The sluggish real estate market collapsed and so the inflow of new fees and revenue dried up. Health care costs and insurance increases have been rising at an unsustainable rate. I am proud to say that while this town board could not change the direction of the financial winds, we did adjust our sails. Springing into action we “lassoed” runaway spending by making town hall live within its means - watching every penny and program. We took the painful but necessary step of laying off town workers to shrink our spending. We fiercely negotiated union contracts and our police force agreed to lag their pay for a year to save money. In 2011, we completed our financial audits. At a time when the credit rating of both the Federal and County governments were downgraded, the town maintained its credit rating which allowed us to properly finance (in this low interest economy) by recently selling 22 million dollars of debt at a historically low interest rate of 3%. We have stopped the financial hemorrhaging. Wherever possible, we have combined town services and departments and we sought to privatize functions and battened down the financial hatches. We have steered through tricky and unchartered financial waters and we will continue to do all in our power to save money, promote efficiency, cut costs and do what is financially sound. This year, I have created a non-partisan internal audit committee made up of independent voices to review our finances in an objective, businesslike manner that will keep Riverhead on the right fiscal course. I would like to thank Jack Orben, Susan Bandiera and Steve Patterson for taking on the task of Independent Audit Advisory Committee members. Their business acumen will help ensure that the town’s financial position remains strong. We will keep our financial house in order by doing whatever it takes to stay current with our audits. I have requested that the Office of the State Comptroller complete a “friendly” audit of Riverhead’s finances so that we are assured we are operating efficiently. We shall continue on a course of “Jack Benny frugality” when it comes to town spending while at the same time recognizing that we cannot save our way to prosperity. We must ultimately grow our tax base. I have outlined the three major priorities for the coming year and our plans for the not too distant future but we in government are called upon to do so much more. In the coming year we will work with Suffolk County to look to preserve farmland wherever we can and wherever our finances will allow. We will seek grants to build capital projects that will enhance the works of beauty in our town. We will weigh endeavors that seek to develop our town in a way that respects our rural way of life, our needs as a community and our common sense. We will serve our constituents, we will work with all levels of
government to grow Riverhead and we will shepherd our town forward against all challenges we may face. This year will bring us an exciting agenda of activism. I am pleased and blessed to have excellent and caring partners at my side in Council members: John Dunleavy, Jim Wooten, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio. Last September, our community gathered on a closed Main Street; neighbor-toneighbor, Moms and Dads holding their children’s hands on that balmy, late summer’s night, I saw generations of “Riverheaders” telling stories about the old days and good times of yesterday. I saw children in pajamas - up past their bedtime - to witness “history in the making” as we lit the marquee of the old Suffolk Theater. The theater is a touchstone: the first date-place where people met and eventually married, a place where couples courted, where kids spent their innocent years watching the flickering “silver screen” and it came of age among the popcorn and Raisinets. As electricity coursed through the veins of the crisp new lights, it was as if the marquee called like a beacon and we looked up in wonder at the promise of a new Riverhead. This is a great place with great people. It is a community that comes together to plant a garden or to pray for a young man badly burned who struggles to will his life back. We are a people that till the soil and fight to preserve our rural character and history. We care and work to ensure the best education for our students. We glory in the sense of community in our hamlets. We plant flags on Veteran’s Day. We march in the parades. When the rains came to Horton Avenue, we united to help our neighbors. We all watch the joy of our children play on Duck Pond Day. It is in these limitless acts of kindness and happiness that we measure the true strength of Riverhead - and it is in the strength of that tradition that we are proud we call Riverhead “home.” So, on this day, in this place, in the 2012th year of our Lord and the 220th year since the settlement of our small but pride-filled town that I am happy to report that the state of our town is strong and that the greatness that lies within our special people will allow us to meet any challenge before us and keep us on the march towards a new and exciting future. Thank you. May God bless you, your family and may God bless Riverhead. -30-
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