No action on Riverhead Resorts ♦ A quiet budget hearing ♦ Axed employee honored by labor-management committee ♦ Get rid of those plastic shopping bags ♦ Retireees and Energy Awareness Day participants thanked
The top news to come out of yesterday's Town Board meeting was what the board didn't do. It didn't take any action on the Riverhead Resorts contract — again.
Resorts attorneys Morton Weber and Mitch Pally presented the board with a check from Solutio Financing for £2,415,130 — the equivlent of $3.9 million — drawn on a London bank. But Supervisor Sean Walter, and councilmen John Dunleavy and James Wooten — who have said they would agree to modify and extend the Resorts contract if the firm came up with $3.9 million by Nov. 3 — didn't act on a resolution agreeing to modify the deal. The reason? The check was an uncertified business account check. Walter said he asked Weber to arrange to have the funds wired into the escrow account of the town's special counsel, the Riverhead law firm of Smtih Finkelstein, Lundberg, Isler and Yakaboski. (See related story and video.) If the wire transfer is completed, the board will vote on a resolution to modify the deal, Walter said.
Board members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen are opposed to granting any more contract extensions, and Giglio has said she would not support the Resorts deal even if the purchaser came up with the full $6 million now due. (See Oct. 13 story and video, "Walkout scuttles Riverhead Resorts meeting.") But neither board member offered a resolution to terminate the contract.
The $3.9 million represents past-due amounts (due in March and June) for extensions of a contract deadline requiring Resorts to close on the purchase of 750 acres of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park. Another $1.9 million extension payment came due in September.
The $155 million contract of sale, signed in January 2008, required Resorts to close the deal by December 2009. The contract gave Resorts the ability to "buy" up to five three-month extensions of the closing deadline at a price of $1,937,500 apiece. The extension payments were to be nonrefundable and immediately payable to the town.
Resorts made one extension payment, extending its time to close till March 2010. But since then, the company has not come up with any more payments. It has also sought a reduction in the selling price of the land to $108 million from the $155 million agreed to in the contract, faulting the depressed real estate and financial markets.
If a resolution agreeing to modify the contract is eventually passed by the board, the town would have to hold a new public hearing on the financial wherewithal of the purchaser to complete the transaction and develop the property with the $1 billion resort project it has proposed.
Resorts partner Bayrock Group is no longer a principal in the project, according to attorney Pally. Bayrock was the partner that had access to the necessary financing, according to the minutes of the 2007 "qualified and eligible sponsor" hearing held by the Town Board. If the board decides Resorts is no longer "qualified and eligible" it could not enter a revised contract of sale. Remaining Resorts principal John Niven, the Scottish home builder who partnered with Bayrock, told board members last month he had "drained financially" both of his companies "to keep this dream alive," investing some $18 million in the deal so far. Niven and his attorneys said London-based Solutio Financing, which drew the check delivered to the town yesterday, would be arranging for the capital to complete the transaction.
A quiet budget hearing
A public hearing on the town's proposed 2011 operating budget yesterday drew little public comment.
Apart from comments by a local wildlife rehabilitation specialist in opposition to cutting the position held by animal control officer Sean McCabe, and opposition to cutting a planning department staff member offered by former councilman George Bartunek on behalf of the North Fork Environmental Council, the only input the Town Board got at yesterday's hearing was from representatives of the town's largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association.
Striking a very different demeanor than the last time he appeared before the board, Bill Walsh, a Suffolk County CSEA representative told board members he appreciated the difficult position they are in during the current fiscal crisis and said the union wants to work with the board to "find common ground."
The budget proposal at yesterday's hearing includes eliminating 13 jobs held by CSEA members.
Riverhead CSEA unit secretary Jan McKenna presented local CSEA members' questions about the proposed budget, reflecting the union's line-by-line review of the proposed spending plan presented by the supervisorSept. 30. Finance administrator Bill Rothaar answered most of McKenna's questions at the podium and promised to provide her with answers to other questions after reviewing his files.
The Town Board, which did not adopt any revisions to Walter's tentative budget and chose instead to go to a hearing on the budget Walter presented, has been meeting weekly to do its own line-by-line review. Board members have discussed various changes to Walter's proposal — including making additional cuts aimed at finding funds to restore the jobs cut by the supervisor. None of the changes has yet been put to a vote.
State law requires the Town Board to adopt a final budget on or before November 20.
The board has scheduled another budget review session for today beginning at 10:45 a.m. and continuing through the afternoon.
Axed employee honored by labor-management committee
A planned ceremony honoring the town's employee of the quarter — an honor bestowed by the town's labor-management committee — went bust yesterday when neither the employee of the quarter nor the labor management committee appeared for the ceremony.
No explanation was given, but the honoree this quarter is Recreation Department employee Danielle Doll, whose job has been cut from the 2011 operating budget.
Get rid of those plastic shopping bags
Former councilman George Bartunek, vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council and chairman of the town's litter control committee, presented Riverhead Stop and Shop with an environmental award for its reusable bag program. The supermarket gives customers five cents off their grocery bills for every reusable bag brought to the store for shopping. The store is able to avoid using tens of thousands of plastic bags each month, saving the environment and reducing litter on Riverhead's roads, Bartunek said.
Sunday, Nov. 14 was declared "Riverhead Recycles Day" by the Town Board yesterday. Citing statistics that show people in the U.S. throw away 100 billion plastic bags each year, recycling only 2 percent of them and wasting the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil (used to manufacture the bags), the board resolved to recognize November as "a month to celebrate the concept of recycling." It adopted a resolution urging all grocery stores and supermarkets to make reusable shopping bags available at each checkout counter and asking all stores to offer free reusable bags to shoppers on Nov. 14.
Members of the Riverhead High School Key Club gave the Town Board a "Going Green" lesson, demonstrating for board members the volunteer environmental awareness education they do in the school district's elementary classrooms. Club president Kim Moreno quizzed board members on their awareness of environmental impacts of plastic bags.
Retireees & Energy Awareness Day participants thanked
The Town Board honored three new retirees, all long-time Riverhead Town employees: Muriel Froelich, Sharon Klos and Glenn Magee.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio presented certificates of appreciation to people who participated in last month's Riverhead Energy Awareness Day, which Giglio coordinated.