April 12, 2006

Reclassification For Town?

At last week's town board work session, Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale outlined proposed reclassification of the town from second class to suburban.

Reclassification has a number of advantages, said Cardinale: "You don't want to be a second class town," he joked. "It doesn't sound right."

The reclassification offers a number of positives, said Cardinale, including being able to set the town speed limits on town roads and put up signs without having to "wait six months for a speed limit sign change" from the state.

Another component of the proposed reclassification would be the ability of the board to appoint positions such as assessors, which are currently elected positions. Under the suburban town classification, the three-assessor board would be reduced to a single assessor.

While Cardinale admitted the change would be controversial, "it would remove it from politics" and lead to "greater professionalism."

Members of the board questioned whether, should a reclassification take place, it would be mandated that certain positions change in status. Cardinale explained some positions would automatically change from elected to appointed, while others would be optional.

Elected assessors, he said, would have the right to finish out their term.

Other changes under the proposed new suburban town classification include a voter-approved ward system, with town board members running to represent specific geographic areas in Riverhead, and increased focus on the supervisor's position. 

The board left the discussion open; no determinations were made.

Licensing Taxis

The board revisited the issue of taxi and livery licensing. "Taxis in this town pick up our most vulnerable residents," said Cardinale, adding that seniors, especially, often take taxis. "God knows who the driver might be." As it stands, added Cardinale, the driver "could be Jack the Ripper."

Licensing of livery and taxi services would ensure that drivers are physically fit and that vehicles are safe and regularly inspected.

"We need to do it well and legally or else we're going to get into a liability situation," said Cardinale.

Councilman John Dunleavy said "it's a safety and a quality of life issue. I don't know how eight out of 10 towns have this and they're not afraid of liability." Dunleavy used Brookhaven and Babylon towns as models; Southampton Town also requires licensing.

Enforcement was discussed. Dunleavy told Town Attorney Dawn Thomas: "Your experience is, if you can't enforce it, don't put it on."

Councilwoman Barbara Blass expressed concern over land use issues, and how "14 taxis lined up would impact a business or street."

Cardinale emphasized the need for greater scrutiny. The supervisor suggested a meeting between members of the board including Dunleavy, Blass, and Thomas to discuss the issue further.

Guidance, Please

Blass reported progress with the town's Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which she said is "98% complete." Blass said former Southold Supervisor Josh Horton was slated to "help prepare" for the informational hearing.

Next steps include the informational hearing, which Blass said is "probably about a month" away, as well as a separate public hearing required by state regulations. The town also has to pass a concurrent local law adopting a compliance document, a step which also requires a compliance hearing.

Blass reminded that the original town master plan had an LWRP as a component, but it was so specialized it was removed.

As it stands, the vast area of the Long Island Sound has been left unzoned. "We have to fill that void," said Blass. "We have to zone the Long Island Sound to make it complete." It is, she pointed out, "probably the most important" facet of the project still needing to be addressed.

Horton said that although he would be "delighted" to help with Riverhead's LWRP, neither he nor his company North Star Media Network in Greenport has been officially contracted to assist.

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