The Village News: Editorials

March 24, 2015

Fiscal Responsibility?


EditorialFormer Bellport Village Trustee Dorothy Terwilliger’s recent Letter To The Editor got me to thinking. One of the points Dorothy made was that Mayor Fell and the Village Trustees were planning on paying more for a sun shade pavilion, $650,000, for Ho Hum Beach than most of us would think of paying for a new house. That’s $650,000 for the construction of the house not including the cost of the land.

Mayor Fell argues that he hopes FEMA will pay for 90% of the cost of a new sun shade, $585,000, but that still leaves $65,000 that the Village residents will have to pay and there are no guarantees that FEMA will pay their $585,000. Mayor Fell points out that in the past FEMA has contributed 90% of the costs on projects like the sun shade for Ho Hum Beach, but he’s quick to add that there are no guarantees. Maybe he should be quick to reconsider the wisdom of this expenditure.

Both I and several other Village residents have tried to offer alternative solutions for the shade problem at Ho Hum Beach. We researched and presented to the Mayor and Village Board alternatives that might only cost $10,000 to $20,000 at best, but we’ve gotten no response or show of interest from Mayor Fell or the Village Board.

We’ve pointed out to the Mayor and Village Board that chances are structures on Fire Island are doomed by Mother Nature from the start and there are no guarantees that the next big storm won’t wash away their $650,000 sun shade. No response.

We’ve pointed out that only a very few residents will actually benefit from the sun shade, only those who use the ferry or have their own boat to get to the beach, but all residents will be paying for it. No response.

We’ve pointed out that the $585,000 that the Mayor hopes will come from FEMA isn’t “free money.” As tax payers, whether the money comes out of Village, Town, County, State, or Federal tax dollars, we’re still paying for it. No response.

As Dorothy points out, in light of the letter all residents just received from Mayor Fell and the rest of the Village Board regarding the state of the roads in the Village, isn’t it time to think about our fiscal priorities? It isn’t like the Village has the money in a box under the bed. The Village is going to have to go out and borrow the money.

Let’s talk about that letter from the Mayor and Trustees regarding the state of the roads in the Village. For a long time when asked about the Village Highway Department, the answer has been, “No problem.” Board Meeting after Board Meeting when asked how the Highway Department is doing and was there anything to report, the answer has been, “No,” “Nope,” “No problem,” “Everything is Honky Dory.” Now, all of a sudden, the Mayor sends out a letter telling us that, “This winter’s damage has been estimated at $400,000.” Well, didn’t you budget for this? Haven’t you been putting away a little each year to cover a bad winter here or there?

It turns out that the Village has been wisely putting money aside for a rainy day at the Highway Department. It’s claimed that the Village puts aside about $40,000 a year and now has between $160,000 and $180,000 for road repairs. On top of that, they have $144,000 set aside in a contingency fund that could be used, but why was there no mention of this in the Mayor’s letter to the community. I don’t know about you, but when I read the Mayor’s letter, I thought he was saying that the Village had to somehow come up with $400,000 for road repairs right away. I hope they are not planning on borrowing another $400,000 driving the Village deeper into debt than they really have to.

This also raises the question, “Was this really such a bad winter?” Yes it was cold, but we got about 3’ less snow this year than last year. It wasn’t the end of the world. The conditions of the parking lots at the Country Club, Municipal Parking Lot, and behind the Band Shell, have been horrible for years and weren’t the result of this winter’s weather. This winter certainly didn’t help, but it certainly wasn’t the cause. Fiscal responsibility calls for planning and taking action before your back is against the wall. The Mayor and Trustees should have seen this coming.

And this leads me to the subject of the “piercing” of the Village’s “Tax Cap.” At the February Village Board meeting, Mayor Fell said, “Villages have a very difficult time staying under the tax cap.” He also said, “There is not a village that I know that can stay within that 1.6% tax cap increase.” That may be true, but Bellport Village isn’t like a lot of other villages in that Bellport Village has sources of income other than taxes. We should be receiving income from the golf course, country club, grill room, boat slips, ferry, Ho Hum Beach concession, Ho Hum Beach boat slips, tennis, Kids’ Camp, paddle board lessons, yacht club, and I’m sure others. If not receiving income, we should at least be breaking even on these services. Are we? If the Village stopped losing money at the golf course and started charging fair market value for the other services and amenities they provide, particularly to non-residents, taxes would not only stop going up, chances are they would go down.

It’s time for the Mayor and Trustees to fess up (transparency again). Tell us honestly how the Village is doing. If there’s a problem on the horizon, let us know about it early before it’s a catastrophe. Let us know what your plans are to solve or avoid the problem. Above all else, stop treating the residents like children who need governing. Instead, represent us.


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Larry Sribnick

Larry Sribnick