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$650K and B&B’s

May 30, 2016

The Bellport Village Board has been doing a lot of spending lately. The justification for these expenditures has been that somehow the Village came up with an unexpected $650,000. Rather than use the money to reduce taxes, Mayor Fell decided to spend the money on items that would be a one time cost to the Village such as a new camera system and key fob electronic door locks.

Back in April, I wrote an Editorial about the wisdom of these purchases so I won’t re-hash the subject here, but it does raise the question, “Where did this $650,000 come from?” So, during the “Open To The Public” portion of the April Village Board Meeting, I decided to ask that question.

When Mayor Fell started to answer my question, at first, I believed the Mayor was trying to say that these were unspent dollars that were the result of not spending money that had been budgeted for and some items costing less than they had been budgeted for. However, as I listened, I was confused. Specifically, the first half of Mayor Fell’s answer to this question was, “It came from over a period of probably three years. In looking at unspending budgets. Looking at money we received from FEMA that we didn’t have to repay in certain areas.”

If you’re not quite sure of what the answer was, that makes two of us, but the Mayor went on to be even more confusing.

“We’re looking at the 10% we have to pay we’ve put that now the State said that they will pay that 10% so that’s just about a little over $100,000 we haven’t gotten the revenue, but it’s in that $600,000 we’re anticipating that revenue. Some of that revenue is anticipated revenue that we will receive. We don’t have it today, but we will receive it. So that’s the anticipated revenue and it will come in over the next two, maybe three years.”

So, it seems that according to Mayor Fell, the two possibilities are... We either have had unspent money and unexpected revenues, or the Village has anticipated revenues coming over the next two or three years in which case the Village Board has decided to spend $650,000 they don’t really have, but are expecting receipt of over the next two or three years. Got it??? If not, click here to listen to Mayor Fell’s answer to my question.

Now, there is a third possibility that the Mayor didn’t mention. Under this administration our Village Taxes have gone up every year. Could it be that the Mayor and Trustees have over taxed us by at least $650,000? Considering that there are roughly 1,000 homes in the Village, would you rather receive a $650 Village Tax refund check, or have “Fobs” for an electronic door lock system in the Village?

I apologize, but there’s even more to this story. In the recent South Country School District budget vote, as required by law, a proposal for a “Capital Reserve Fund” was voted on and passed. In a nutshell, if the school district accumulates a surplus by either spending less than the authorized appropriation, or by earning more revenue than anticipated, they either have to give it back to the tax payers or put it in a Capital Reserve Fund to be drawn on at a later time. Here’s the really important part. If the school district wants to draw on the excess funds that have been deposited into the Capital Reserve Fund, the residents of the school district, not the school board, must approve the expenditure through a public referendum! Does Bellport Village have a Capital Reserve Fund? Is it required by law to have one? If it isn’t required, doesn’t it sound like a good idea? Shouldn’t Mayor Fell have asked the residents if they wanted a tax refund check or key fobs for all the Village employees?

Enough! Let’s turn to the May Village Board meeting and B&B’s.

There’s something that needs to be said. I believe I’ve attended just about every meeting where B&B’s in the Village were discussed and there’s been one glaring omission. As far as I can remember, not once has anyone, who doesn’t have a financial interest in legalizing B&B’s in Bellport Village, spoken in favor of, or proposed legalizing, B&B’s in the Village. Every meeting has begun based on the premise that B&B’s were going to be a fact of life in Bellport Village. On top of that, on the few occasions when the residents in attendance at one of these meetings were asked if they favored B&B’s, they were unanimously against them. On top of that, there have been only two people on the Village Board pushing for B&B’s from the start, Mayor Ray Fell and Trustee Bob Rosenberg. Trustee McGrath, Trustee Ferrigno, and Trustee O’Connor have, for the most part, remained mute on the subject.

I have been told several times that Trustee Rosenberg owns at least one B&B in Manhattan. I don’t know if it’s true, but when I tried to ask him that question at a Village Board meeting, I wasn’t allowed to complete what I had to say. Instead, I was cut off by Trustee Ferrigno screaming at me for my having the nerve to ask such a question. What are they all afraid of? Why not clear the air?

Now, keep in mind that the special B&B Committee that was created by the Village Board recommended that B&B’s only be allowed in the Business and Professional areas of Bellport Village. They did not recommend that B&B’s be allowed in the residential areas of the Village. So, at the May Village Board meeting, Mayor Fell rattled off the rules he had come up with for allowing B&B’s in the Business and Professional areas of the Village. He called his plan the “Village ID Distribution Program.”

There would be Long Term Rentals, four months or longer and Short Term Rentals of less than four months. According to Mayor Fell, Long Term renters would be treated the same as residents and issued, at no charge, a Village ID card. The owner of the property wouldn’t be issued a Village ID card as they had given up that right to their renter. What about the rest of the year? Is the renter going to turn in their ID card? Is the property owner going to get an ID Card once their tenant leaves? Who’s going to keep track of all this coming and going?

For a Short Term, two to three month, rental, there would be a charge for a family of up to five; “A mother, father, and up to three children,” according to Mayor Fell’s plan. For a family of over five members, there could be an additional charge. The same is true for a one month rental. Pay for an ID card for up to five people and more for over five people.

Mayor Fell would treat Village rentals of two to three weeks the same, but for rentals of less than two weeks, he would not issue a Village ID card. Instead, renters for less than two weeks would be able to buy Ferry tickets at Village Hall at a higher rate than residents or guests of residents.

I’d like to make some important points about this entire issue of B&B’s in Bellport Village.

How does allowing B&B’s in Bellport Village benefit 95% of Village Residents? Why 95%? Because casual review of “Airbnb’s” offerings online reveals over 50 places up for rent in the Village. Surely these aren’t all in the Business/Professional areas of the Village. Aren’t they illegal? If they are, why hasn’t the Mayor done anything about it? Shouldn’t the Mayor and Trustees be making decisions that benefit the vast majority of Village residents, not just a few who are going to make a profit from them?

Next, access to Village amenities is the key to all of this. I believe very few people would want to rent in Bellport Village if it meant they couldn’t ride the ferry, relax on Ho Hum Beach, have access to Mother’s Beach, play Tennis, or play a round of golf. Take away the amenities and you do away with the B&B issue. Anytime anyone has mentioned the issue of access to Village amenities to the Board, their response has been, “We’ll deal with that later.”

Are you familiar with the word “Chutzpah?” Well, the Village Board sure has Chutzpah! For years, every time the issue of allowing Shop Keepers in the Village to have access to Village amenities, the Village Board has said, “No.” I won’t rehash the issues involved, but isn’t giving access to Village amenities to someone who is going to rent a B&B for a week or two a slap in the face to all of the wonderful people who line Main Street with their shops? The Shop Owners have never asked for free access, they’d just like any access.

    


If you have a comment and would like to respond to any of the above, we'd be glad to consider printing your response. Please send your comments to larry@bellport.com. You can read the comments we receive on our Letters To The Editor page.

Sincerely, 

Larry Sribnick

Larry Sribnick
Editor/Publisher, Bellport.com, LLC