The Village News: Editorials

July 5, 2014

Enough is Enough


EditorialI’ve now sat through, relatively quietly for me, two Village Board Meetings, one Village Board Work Session, and two Community Meetings held by the Village Board regarding the proposed Bellport Village Sewer System. I’ve read, and published on, the report H2M prepared for the Village and I’ve read and published the information that was given out by H2M at the two Community Meetings. I’ve watched the countless hours that everyone has put into this so far and I’ve watched the price the Village has paid for all of the work, so far, go from $20,000, to $25,000, and now, according to Mayor Fell at the last Community Meeting, we’ve reached $30,000 and this is only the beginning.

What I haven’t heard from Village Hall is a clear statement as to what they think the problem is that they’re trying to fix. Yes, Village Hall says a new sewer system would make Bellport Village more attractive to “wet” businesses, but do we really want an Applebee’s, Waffle House, or car wash on Main Street? It wasn’t that long ago that the question being debated in the Village was, “What are we going to do with all these people who want to shop here? Where are they going to park?” The answer then was to cut the size of the park in front of the Community Center in order to increase the size of the Municipal Parking Lot. I think this jumping to the conclusion that we need a “wetter” Bellport without Village Hall first doing some serious homework is a waste of time and money and should be stopped immediately! Don’t spend anymore of OUR money!

In my eyes, the question we should be asking and trying to answer is, “How can we get the Village’s Economy going?” By Village’s Economy, I mean not only Main Street, but also the Bellport Village Golf Course which has become a drain rather than asset for the Village’s Residents. We should be looking for Occam’s razor, “The simpler solution is usually the better solution” in all of this. A sewer system that costs us a fortune and that we might not see for 10 years is not Occam’s razor.

Let me help. From what I’ve heard, Village Hall didn’t spend much time listening to what the shop keepers, not landlords, on Main Street think the problem is and what can and should be done to solve it. The thrust of the Sewer System Project is aimed at the landlords, not the shop keepers. Even if we go full steam ahead with the new Sewer System, the possible benefits are many years away, maybe 10 years or more away. Main Street’s economy needs help NOW, not 10 years from now.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but there should be a series of OPEN meetings held, maybe every week for awhile, to brainstorm the problem. For starters, how about a Bellport Farmers’ Market like the fantastically successful one being held in Riverhead? We have three large venues available on Main Street that would be perfect. We might be able to use any or all of them. Has anyone asked? I’ll bet a program like that could be pulled together relatively quickly if everyone pitched in.

How about someone stepping in and saving the Clipper Classic 5K Race? Did you realize there won’t be a Clipper Classic this year? All those people and all that business for Main Street are gone. Why didn’t Village Hall or the Chamber of Commerce step in to save the Clipper Classic? It’s too late now, but we should be starting the planning for next summer, NOW, not next June!

How about inviting one or more of the Antique Car Clubs on Long Island to Bellport Village’s Main Street for a Car Show? It’s been done before, why not do it again and again? For that matter, I’ll bet there are all kinds of clubs and organizations who would love to show what they’re all about. You could spread them out among the shops so that foot traffic would stroll from shop to shop seeing what the group or organization has to offer.

How about a Music Festival located on Main Street, not down at the dock? I know plenty of musicians who would love to play for next to nothing if you make it fun for them. I’ll bet MVP Automotive might be willing to make their parking lot available. What about the grassy area to the south of Basil’s? What about the grassy area to the east of It’s Only Natural? You could have three different venues going at the same time and lots of foot traffic between them.

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s plenty we could do that wouldn’t cost a lot of money and could be implemented in a relatively short period of time if Village Hall would just stop wasting their time and OUR money on something that won’t payoff for up to 10 years and will end up costing every home involved up to $20,000 up front and $2,000 a year for the next 30 years before the smoke clears.

The key to bringing new businesses into Bellport Village isn’t a “wetter” Village. If you have an exciting, vibrant Village with lots going on to draw people to Main Street, the new shops will come all by themselves.

The Bellport Golf Course...
The Bellport Golf Course is an essential part of the Village’s economy, just as Main Street is. When Mayor Fell was elected for his one term as Trustee in 2008, one of the first things he voted for was the dismantling of the marketing program for the Golf Course Mayor Trotta had put in place. This would have been fine if the incoming administration had implemented a marketing program of its own, but unfortunately, nothing was ever done. When Mayor Veitch was elected, several years later, his administration too did nothing to market the Golf Course so it should be no surprise that membership declined and along with it, profits from the Golf Course.

One year ago, when Mayor Fell was elected, although it would have made sense on day one of his administration to get going with a new marketing plan for the Golf Course, nothing was done. Rather than being a source of revenue for the Village, the Golf Course is now being supported by the residents and the current administration is just starting to get around to doing something. Let’s hope that they are finally going to put a strong marketing plan in place to not only attract new players, but to also keep the players we already have. In marketing, it’s always said that it’s far more important and easier to keep the customers you have rather than find and attract new ones. A strong marketing plan is essential to turning the Bellport Golf Course around and with it, the economy of the entire Village.

Misc. Ramblings...
The following are my thoughts, observations, questions and concerns regarding the proposed new sewer system.

Let’s have a “Permissive Referendum,” show of hands, or voice vote.
Why won’t Mayor Fell allow residents and landlords to at least informally express their feelings as to whether or not they want the Village Board to proceed with spending their time and OUR money on the sewer project based on the information we already have? About 177 residences were sent written notices about the June 28th sewer meeting for residents. The Community Center was filled to capacity so about 175 people were there. Out of all those people, only one, and maybe another, were in favor of going forward with the proposed sewer system. The rest seemed to be clearly against it. Over and over again members of the audience asked for the Mayor to request an indication from the audience as to whether they were for or against the sewer system and should it go forward, but he refused. Over and over again they requested a “Permissive Referendum” take place so that the people could vote on whether they want Village Hall to go forward with the plan, but Mayor Fell refused. Instead, Mayor Fell wants to wait until the final exact costs are known. I understand that would be ideal, but the problem with that plan is that by then, a year or more from now, we will have spent a lot more money on engineering studies and a lot more money on securing grants. The time to stop is NOW.

What’s it going to cost?
No one seems to know or is willing to say. From what I’ve heard so far, it looks like it’s going to cost a typical residence about $20,000 up front plus about $2,000 per year, for 30 years, to hook up to the system. On top of that, there will be an annual service contract that will cost an additional $850 or so a year. If you refuse to hook up, it will still cost you about $850 per year for 30 years. But, there’s a catch! If lots of people don’t hook up, the grants the Mayor hopes to secure may go away, in which case the Village would be on the hook for an additional $17 million. On top of these costs, you’ll have the cost of changing all the plumbing in your home as the pipes will have to come out the front of your house instead of the rear. You’ll also have the costs of putting your front lawn back together after they are done digging it up for the new pipes to the street. I have no idea what that will cost.

The cost of the system for a business is murky at best. It sounds like the costs might triple or quadruple compared to the typical residential property, but it really hasn’t been made clear at any of the meetings. I think if you assume it will be EXPENSIVE, you won’t be far off.

By the way, I’ve been told that if enough people don’t hook up voluntarily, Village Hall has the power to make it mandatory. Again, I’ll let the lawyers argue it out.

Now, maybe my numbers aren’t right. They’re the best I could gather from the meetings, but most of the time things were so vague that it’s hard to tell. If my numbers aren’t right, I’ll be glad to change them if Village Hall simply makes a statement, that everyone can understand, as to what the costs involved are. Every time the simple question, “What is it going to cost?” was asked, Village Hall side stepped it. Their answer was usually about the cost of one part or another, but never a simple list of all of the costs involved and what the total might be.

I could go on and on...
I could go on and on, but this Editorial is already way too long. I’ll just mention some of the highlights and ideas I’ve come up with from attending the sewer district meetings.

- No grants are available for a businesses only system. Village Hall has said that it’s only considering ecological factors and areas in order to get grants. I don’t think the people who issue these grants are stupid. If only the businesses, or worse yet a small number of the businesses sign up, they’ll take the grant away leaving us on the hook for $17 million.

- Why are we spending all this money now? Why not wait until the Village is on firmer financial ground. What does it matter if we aren’t at the head of the “cue?” What’s the down tick to being a year or two behind the leaders? Who is going to be ahead of us anyway?

- When asked if the Village Board had contacted businesses to see if they are for or against the project, the answer is NO. The Mayor said he’s waiting for the businesses to contact him. He’s not contacting them.

- The Mayor said there are University Studies that indicate $1 spent on a sewer could return $1.50 or even $3.50 in economic development. OK, from where? From what source? Give us examples of how this program might return $46,740,000 to our community. 177 homes x $20,000 = $3,540,000... 177 homes x $2,000 x 30yrs = $10,620,000... $10,620,00 + $14,160,000 = $31,160,000... $31,160,000 x $1.50 = $46,740,000 in economic development. But wait! The Mayor also adds that there are no guarantees. Again, if my numbers are wrong, I hope Village Hall provides us with what they feel are the correct numbers.

- If the power goes out or there are any other problems with your system, everything stops. You’ll need a separate maintenance contract to make sure you’ll be able to flush your toilet.

- Lower lying homes will pay more for hookup because this is a low pressure system and needs an electrical pumping system in order to work.

- Because this is a low pressure, small diameter pipe system, what happens to properties if there’s a backup in the pipe?
There seems to be only benefits to the business community. Why should residences pay for and support it?

- Cost of restoration of your property after it’s all dug up is your responsibility, but it’s financeable, currently at 1.5% from the Village. There’s no telling what the finance rate will be when they actually get around to doing this. If the Village, meaning the residents of the Village, are financing this, what happens if there’s a default on the loan? Everyone in the Village would pay for the loss, not just those in the sewer district.

- What would another Sandy do to the system?

- What alternatives has the Village Board looked into? What about Pine Barrens Tax Credits?

- If you try to sell your home, do you have to tell the buyer about the coming sewer system costs?

- The Board has no idea of how Phase Two for the sewer district will impact Phase One. There’s no Master Plan that we’re implementing one step at a time. They’re starting with Phase One and they’ll worry about the other Phases when they get to them.

- Are landlords going to raise the rents for shop owners to pay for this new system? How will that impact which shops will stay and which will leave Main Street?

- Patchogue will get a huge payment from Bellport Village each year.

- Where did the $30k for H2M come from? Was it in the budget?

- Landlords and residents will ultimately vote. Shop owners will have no say.

- Can the 51% of the vote to approve the sewer system be increased to 80% or 90%?



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Larry Sribnick

Larry Sribnick