Ahead of HarborFest, Sag Harbor Chamber Receives Bill from Village

The Corn Shucking Contest and other kids activities will return to Windmill Beach during HarborFest all weekend.

The bill for HarborFest is in: Sag Harbor Village is asking the Chamber of Commerce for nearly $3,500 for police and sanitation services related to the popular end-of-summer event and is additionally mandating portable toilets that will up the Chamber’s costs by as much as $1,500.

Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Field, who shared those figures with The Sag Harbor Expresson Tuesday, has pledged HarborFest will definitely go on as planned this year — but she said she can’t promise the event has a future here in Sag Harbor, as coordinated by the Chamber, if fees like these will apply going forward.

“After this year, maybe some other organization wants to take it over, which would be the best solution,” Ms. Field said this week. “Maybe the village will rethink charging for this. The point is to enhance the experience of coming to town. It’s to keep the sense of community. It’s not to subsidize the cost of running a village, and that’s what I feel this is.”

The Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization that used to be exempt from paying fees for use of village property for its free, public events. In 2017, the organization, along with the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, received a post-event bill from the village that requested payment for police and custodial services. The village eventually rescinded both of those bills when the organizations’ directors challenged their legality under existing village code.

In March, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees amended that code in such a way that nonprofits are no longer exempt from paying for “encumbrances,” including the use of village property like Long Wharf and Marine Park for public events. In April, the village rolled out the exact fees that organizations and businesses will have to pay: $250 per day, plus a $25 application fee, plus reimbursements for costs such as traffic control officers, police patrols and custodial services. The village also adopted rules that said those additional costs would be provided only after the event permits are approved.

“The $250 a day, we said, ‘That’s manageable. We can deal with that,’” Ms. Field said. “But $3,500 is not sustainable for us. We’ll lose thousands of dollars to subsidize the costs of what the village is supposed to provide. People come into town, drive on the roads, use the bathrooms, and interact with the police.”

She emphasized the benefits that the Chamber of Commerce provides the community, including the paid employees who staff the information booth at the windmill each summer and serve as valuable resources for visitors.

“I’m not looking to go to war with the mayor and the village board. I just want to work together for the common good,” Ms. Field said. “We’re not greedy merchants. We’re trying to do something good for the community and keep a longstanding tradition.”

Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder could not be reached for comment.

At the popular Maritime Festival on the North Fork, Greenport Village is a co-sponsor of the event along with the East End Seaport and Marine Foundation, according to the event website. Southampton Village itself organizes SouthamptonFest, a regular occurrence in the fall, according to the Southampton Chamber of Commerce.

In another nearby municipality, fees and an extensive permitting process are a regular occurrence. According to East Hampton Chamber of Commerce executive director Steven Ringel, for the East Hampton Village Street Fair, slated for May 11, his group had to pay a $500 fee for use of Newtown Lane, which will be closed to vehicles, plus a $2,500 deposit that will be returned as long as the East Hampton Chamber leaves the street in excellent condition.

Mr. Ringel said municipal fees like those in Sag Harbor and East Hampton villages “are not that uncommon.”

“I understand where they [the Sag Harbor Chamber] are coming from, but they are using city resources, whether it’s police time or sanitation,” he said.

Mr. Ringel said the East Hampton Chamber is hiring its own cleaning crew, renting Dumpsters and bringing in luxury portable restrooms — none of which were mandated by the East Hampton board of trustees when it approved the event.

“It was a very extensive process,” he said, describing meetings with the trustees, police, fire chief and ambulance company.

East Hampton Village code says “the village board shall be free to establish differing fees for different types of special events and its designee has the discretion to waive such fee.”

Mr. Ringel said a municipality “has to balance what’s best for the community.”

“For me the purpose of events like our street fair is all about building and celebrating community and bringing them together,” he said. “That’s what makes it a village. It’s not just stores, it’s people. The village has to at some point say what’s the cost of not having these events?”