|February 24, 2014 Village Board Meeting Notes|
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The February 24, 2014 Bellport Village Board Meeting
First, let me say that I think we have just about as good a Village Board as we’re ever going to have. At the same time however, I think there are changes that can be made to improve the “transparency” and responsiveness of how the Village Board conducts business on the behalf of the Village residents. With that in mind, here are my thoughts and observations regarding the February 24, 2014 Village Board meeting.
Home Boat Storage
One of the big issues at the Board meeting was a change in the Village Code regulating the storage of boats in a homeowner’s side yard. Up until now, the Village Code said you can only store a boat behind a home, out of view from the street. The proposed change would allow the storage of a boat in a homeowner’s “side yard,” but it would have to be screened in some way so it’s still out of view from the street.
Both sides of this issue make good points. Bellport is a year round boating community. Boating of some sort takes place in all four seasons of the year. Just like an automobile, the boats are licensed and insured and like a car, they even carry what amounts to license plates. The Village allows cars in the front, side, and back yards of a home so why aren’t boats treated the same way? They even made the point that many people come to Bellport because of boating and I have to admit that’s what brought us here 44 years ago.
The other side’s argument is very simple and compelling. They just don’t want to look out there windows and see a boat yard. Many decisions Village Boards and Commissions make, such as the ARB (Architectural Review Board), are based on the same simple argument, “What does it look like from the street or the neighbor’s property?”
A Public Hearing has been set for the next Village Board meeting, Monday, March 24, 2014 for a discussion of the proposed change in the Village Code and a vote by the Village Board. If you have strong feelings one way or the other, try to attend the meeting and let the Village Board know what you think.
Bellport Fire Department Donates A Van For The Seniors’ Program
For some time, the van used by the Village’s Seniors’ Program has been on its last leg. It was announced at the Village Board meeting that the Bellport Fire Department is donating a low mileage, 1992 GMC nine passenger van, that they no longer need, to the Village for the use of the Seniors’ Program. Commissioners Richard Terwilliger and David Sponton made the presentation to Mayor Fell. A very big Thank You to everyone in the Bellport Fire Department.
Change Of Policy
We have no way of knowing if our recent Editorials regarding Transparency and Q&A at Village Board work sessions and meetings had anything to do with the Village Board’s change of heart, but Mayor Fell announced that the Village Board will now allow questions at Village Board work sessions. He will also continue to allow questions and comments by residents at the Village Board meetings. We applaud this change of policy and it has our complete support.
Piercing The 2% Tax Cap
As stated in my earlier Editorials, I had hoped that the Village Board would provide detailed information regarding their need to “pierce” the State imposed 2% Tax Cap. Unfortunately, they didn’t.
Instead, they basically asked for a “blank check” from the residents to either pierce or not pierce the Tax Cap. The argument they provided was that they just don’t know if they will or won’t have to pierce the 2% Tax Cap so, to cover themselves, they voted in favor of their having the power to pierce the tax cap if needed.
The simple solution to the problem, for next year, is to start the budgeting process at least two months earlier. If the budgeting process isn’t far enough along for Village Hall to have a reasonable idea of how much money they will need, and therefore what the tax rate will be, they should start the budgeting process earlier. Having a “Public Hearing” to discuss whether or not Village Hall should have the power to pierce a 2% Tax Cap is pointless in a vacuum, as evidenced by the fact that no one spoke when the Mayor opened the meeting to the public.
A Do Over
After the Board meeting on February 24th, at which a Public Hearing regarding the piercing of the 2% Tax Cap took place, I pointed out to the Village Board that the Legal Notice they were required to publish for this Public Hearing and vote specified the date as being February 27th, not February 24th and as a result, the hearing and vote weren’t valid. Mayor Fell tells me that Village Hall had a Code Enforcement Officer at the Community Center to explain the mistake on the evening of the 27th just in case residents showed up. He also said that they will be sending out a new Legal Notice specifying that the Public Hearing and vote will again take place at the March Village Board meeting to be held on March 24, 2014.
Proposed Sewer System
I’ve now attended several meetings at which the proposed sewer system for the Village was discussed. The one constant seems to be that the Village doesn’t and won’t have the money for the proposed system regardless of the form it takes. In fact, Trustee Rosenberg has gone so far as to say that we would have to find funding and grants to cover as much as 100% of the system before the Village could proceed. Mayor Fell has pointed out that, as a result of the direction things are going ecologically, he expects the Federal Government to at some point to step in and mandate sewer systems for communities as close to bodies of water as Bellport Village. He expects the cost of such a system to be shared by everyone in the United States and not just the residents of Bellport Village.
If that’s the case, why, at a time when we don’t have two nickels to rub together, are we spending $25,000 for a sewer feasibility study? I understand that the first step towards a sewer system is to conduct a feasibility study and we can’t do anything before the study is conducted, but why can’t we do it five years from now? Even if we had all green lights and the grants and funding were secured we’re looking at ten plus years before there would be a sewer system in place. A future sewer system isn’t going to do anything to help with the economy of the Village’s Main Street now. Couldn’t we find a way to spend the money on something that would impact the economy of the Village NOW?
CPA Speak Is Gone
The Village Board didn’t use CPA speak to explain why and how they want to borrow money. Instead of a “BAN,” they referred to the Village taking out a “short term loan” as I had mentioned in my editorial. Also, as I had requested, Mayor Fell explained what they were borrowing the money for and that the loans would be paid off with monies they expect to receive from FEMA. I would have liked even more detail, but this is a big step in the right direction.
The Next Big Thing
A Public Hearing was set to define what and who a “Resident” is. This is important because the Village Board is finally moving towards allowing at least some Business Property Owners to use Village amenities.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered such as which property owners will receive Amenity Passes. How many will they get? Who will be able to use them? What about employees of property owners?
One particularly good question that was asked by a resident was... Will Village Hall provide detailed information as to how many pieces of property, how many owners, how many extended people, etc., etc. this change will affect? Mayor Fell said, “Yes.”
Like the golf course, enrollment in the Kids’ Camp has declined. Part of the problem is, like the golf course itself, no marketing has been done for years to support this wonderful program. We hope the Village Board does everything possible to continue the Kids’ Camp program.
Clearing Our Sidewalks
Trustee O’Connor pointed out that it’s the responsibility of individual home owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes of snow. I understand and support this position. I have no problem clearing the sidewalk in front of my home of freshly fallen new snow. What I do have a problem with is clearing the sidewalk a second, third, and fourth time after the snow plows, clearing the streets, recover my sidewalk over and over again with frozen slush. I hope the Village takes this into consideration before Code Enforcement starts giving out any tickets. Did you know that it’s illegal to throw the snow back into the street?
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