Music Festival Asks Once More for a Break on Sag Harbor’s Fees for Events

The Buzzards perform at LT Burger during the 8th Annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival last September. Michael Heller photo

There were signs last week that the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees, under a new mayor, may be open to waiving the licensing fees it charges the non-profit Sag Harbor American Music Festival to use public facilities.

The village’s policy of charging some organizations — and not others — for the use of village facilities has been “totally subjective and it’s totally inconsistent,” Trustees James Larocca said at the July 24 work session of the Village Board. “We pick and choose” when to apply fees, he added, depending on the organization

“I hate to see us come down too hard on the Music Festival,” Mr. Larocca said at last week’s meeting, “which is kind of struggling to gain acceptance.” He called the festival, which features two evening concerts that require admission but many daily weekend performances that are free, “virtually a public event.”

That’s exactly what Kelly Dodds, president and co-artistic director of the festival, has been saying for more than a year. She has noted that the Lions Club, the Community Band, the Boys Scouts, and the Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary have paid no fees for using village facilities for their events unlike the Music Festival.

Mr. Larocca offered his views as the board weighed Ms. Dodds’s latest request — submitted by email to the mayor and trustees on July 12 — that the board waive its $250-a-day licensing fees for the use of Windmill Beach and Marine Park for the 2019 edition of the Music Festival on September 28 and 29. Ms. Dodds was not present for the discussion.

In May, when she appeared in person at a Village Board meeting to ask for a waiver of the fees for this year’s event, Mayor Sandra Schroeder responded with a firm “no.”

“Nothing’s changed in the law,” the mayor commented then. “We can’t waive the fee … We haven’t waived it for anybody else.”

Last week, with newly-elected Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, the answer wasn’t “no” but it wasn’t “yes” either — at least not just yet.

While Mr. Larocca appeared to back a waiver, other board members had some questions, including whether not she was also asking the village to waive charges for its costs for police and other services.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be the biggest donor” when organizations host events, commented Trustee Aidan Corish. He added he wasn’t sure there was “enough information on hand to make a decision.”

Village Attorney Elizabeth Vail noted that the village code specifically gives the board authority to waive permit and licensing fees but cautioned that village department heads, such as the police chief, should be asked to assess the demands that the music festival may place on them before waiving any costs.

Agreeing to Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy’s suggestion that Ms. Dodds be invited to the next regular board meeting on Tuesday, August 13 to clarify her request, the board tabled the issue until then.

In her email, Ms. Dodds wrote that the “festival is not opposed to paying for additional police enforcement. However, since the law was introduced, it has not been fairly enforced with all organizations seeking permits (e.g. Sag Harbor Community Band, Ladies Aux. Fire Dept, Boy Scouts, Lions Club, etc.).”

She asked the board to see the “festival for what it is: a volunteer-run organization dedicated to serving the community. If the board continues to offer exemptions to some organizations, please reconsider including the music festival among them. The village fees went from a few hundred dollars to over $4,000 in less than three years. This is not sustainable for a small non-profit and it limits our ability to provide grants to our local school music programs.”

The Music Festival, which has been bringing dozens of free performances to venues all around downtown Sag Harbor for a weekend in late September since 2011, abandoned Marine Park as a venue last year because the Village Board refused to waive the licensing fee, which Ms. Dodds said was too hefty for her small organization.

“It’s a positive thing that they’ve invited me to the meeting to talk about it,” Ms. Dodds said on Monday.