The Present and Future of Riverhead, NY
In the 20 years, I have known Yvette Aguiar, now the Town Supervisor of Riverhead, I continue to grow more and more respect for her to take on challenges, many of us will be hesitant to do so. We met immediately, after 9/11, and we traveled the piles of Ground Zero together, myself as a newspaper reporter and her as a first responder. I was able to capture firsthand America’s saddest day. In admiration, the Sergeant retired from the NYC Counter Terrorism Division and immediately commenced on a PhD program in Business Administration with a specialization in Homeland Security. She is an online security and global intelligence professor with the American Military university and a licensed NYS Real Estate agent. Two years (January 2020) ago, she was elected to office as Riverhead Town Supervisor.
Unequivocally, her election was baptized by fire. In February 2020, she endured the Global Pandemic and the wrath of Tropical storm Isaias, which created havoc in Riverhead, along with many financial challenges to the Town of Riverhead.
I had the honor to interview my dear friend once again in her capacity as Riverhead Town Supervisor:
Just two short months after taking office the COVID-19 pandemic hit, what were your initial thoughts as Supervisor and as Police Commissioner for the Town of Riverhead?
I was extremely concerned, most people alive have never experienced this type of health crisis, since the last pandemic in 1918. I lived through 9/11, and I experienced many of the same flashbacks quite frequent. Hospitals were overwhelmed, breathing equipment and masks were scared, comforting victims of the deceased, access to emergency supplies were also limited, lack of information to identify the scope of the disaster, helping the most vulnerable population our elderly, and communication was chaotic. However, my mission focused on keeping our residents safe, along with our employees. Everyone sough answers from us, and unfortunately, in the beginning we had few. Very, very long days, exhaustion on our ambulance, fire and police personnel was at an all time high. I often thought, we need our first responders I survived 9/11, along with the COVID-19 pandemic and I pray to God, I never witness another event of this nature.
My experience in public and private management, law enforcement and the ability to lead cohesively helped our town government rise above the many challenges presented to us. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I kept looking back through my life and often said to myself, I can do this, I have the experience and tools to needed to get us out of the pandemic and keep continue to move Riverhead forward.
Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced under the COVID-19 pandemic?
Once, it was determined our seniors were the most vulnerable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we created the Riverhead Senior for Assistance program (SAFE), where seniors were able to order online from stores, restaurants, a pharmacy, and a supermarket, and Lowes. The Police Department delivered the essentials to our seniors, along with free emergency food boxes. I drove to Albany to advocate for vaccines for our seniors, our most vulnerable population. I succeeded in bringing 1700 vaccines to our senior center. My relentless advocacy presented to the Governor worked. As a result, our senior center was designated by the Dept. of Health as a vaccination site. Seniors who never left their homes under the pandemic, knew where to go for the sought-after vaccines. The adherence of social distiancing mandates throughout our buildings and acquisition of personal protection equipment for our businesses and residents were challenging. However. we overcame them and continued Town operations and provided the essential services our residents expected and deserved.
Once our churches closed their doors in compliance with state mandates, the homeless were left without shelter. Preparations were in place to house the homeless in tents at Indian Island Park. Instead, over the course of arduous 3 days, I worked with Suffolk County, we succeeded in placing all 33 individuals in shelters, where they continue to be provided with food, healthcare, and a safe haven. While crime reached an all time high in many Suffolk Town, Riverhead saw an all time low.
We needed to keep communication open at Town Hall, we were the first to provide Zoom conferencing, the only Town in the East End who held in person Board meetings, and the first to open Town Hall. On finances, we faced many monumental financial shortfalls. I was able to stabilize our budget. It was one of the most challenging efforts in my life. I see now, my efforts proved successful. Recently, Riverhead Town received a Moody’s Bond upgrade. The only Town in Suffolk County to receive an upgrade after a pandemic. Given all our challenges, we continued to provide the services our taxpayers wanted and deserved, without laying off employees. Our Town employees under the chaos of a pandemic, held strong and I could not have moved forward without them, or the support of my Town Board colleagues. There were so many challenges.
Where is Riverhead heading post-the COVID-19 pandemic?
In many great sure-footed directions. Our budget is now balanced, and I will soon complete the Supervisor’s 2022 budget by the end of the month. I am working to lower our tax rate by 1 to 2% and I am hoping to continue the trend in 2023. The last decrease was in 2000. We are working to creating a new Town Hall and working with our engineers identify the proper location. Revitalizing our downtown was my priority when I took office. We have made great strides on many fronts in our downtown. Last year we received 1.8 mil dollar grant and expected to receive more by the end of the year to create our new Town Square. Finally, I was able to obtain the assistance of the US Army Corps of Engineers to addressing the riverfront flooding during a Northeasters. We are razing the two buildings across from the Suffolk Theatre to open our Main St. to our riverfront next month. On our riverfront we are also exploring the inclusion of an amphitheater, a dock to launch kayaks, creating a Long Island Music Museum. In addition, the Long Island Science Center will soon relocate on the riverfront. The closed Michelangelo’s restaurant will soon be the home of a Food Channel Chef, from Sicily who will open a restaurant, with all the Sicilian Italian flare of experienced in Italy, including an antipasto bar. Something not seen in Long Island.
The year-round Island Water Park is expected to open by the end of the year. It will have an indoor surfing pool, water activities on the 12-acre lake, along with shops and restaurants. Riverhead residents will receive a discount. This effort was in the making for 22 years. We finally, succeed this year to work on having it open. We will be seeing what I call Riverhead’s mini-Disney to open in the next few months. Restaurant Depot will soon take over an empty store. Great progress on that end. I have been to at least seven ribbon cuttings for new locations in the last two months. A new bank recently opened on Main St. When a bank opens, as a real estate agent, we all know, it is always a significant sign of progress in any community.
We are blessed with our own water district, which can provide clean pure and ample water. The Manorville area has 60 homes with PFOS/PFOA contaminants, and we are working cohesively with two Senators and our Congressman in Washington to receive funding to hook them up to our water district. After years of advocacy, I can say, we are making sure progress on this end. As of this moment forward, all new development in the future will be expected to pay for the infrastructure and not burden our taxpayers.
All our blighted stores on our Main St. have been purchased or in contract. Another sure sign of interest and direction for gentrification. The most blighted area is our train station area. We have created an actionable plan and moving forward to identify a developer to enhance the area at this very moment. We will see much progress in this regard within the next few months. It is no longer, let’s do a survey, let’s explore and complete studies where they collect dust in our Town offices. We now have concrete actionable efforts, with some funding and a time frame. All these accomplishment in two last years, are great and strong indicators of a renaissance occurring in Riverhead. It will happen very soon. However, it is important to note with certainty, Riverhead will move forward with a balance and ensuring we preserve our bucolic/farm/vineyard charm Riverhead is known for.