Sag Harbor Village Begins Enforcing New Event Fee Rules

Chowder-tasting during the Clam Chowder Contest during HarborFest 2017 on Sunday, 9/10/17. Michael Heller photo

Some consider Sag Harbor Village’s $250-per-day fee to hold an event at Havens Beach a steal, and some consider it a shame. Either way, the fee stands as part of a new set of rules, enacted by the Sag Harbor Village Board in April, governing events held on public property in village limits, and since the rules were enacted, the village has been busy enforcing them.

Village officials said at the time the law was passed, the fees were designed to cover the village’s administrative, labor and hard costs of managing event applications and properly maintaining the spaces where people want to hold events.

“We’ve been looking through the village code and trying to tidy things up,” Trustee Aidan Corish said this week. “The village has grown in popularity. The village isn’t out there to make money, but these costs should be covered. There’s a value in using Long Wharf.”

When someone applies for an event that requires, for instance, village police presence or highway department help, Sag Harbor Police Chief Austin J. McGuire and Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley are asked to assign staff members as they see fit. It is then the village administration that determines how much those staff members cost. According to village clerk Beth Kamper, who was generally responsive to questions about fees, part time police officers earn up to $24 per hour, traffic control officers (TCOs) earn up to $16.25 per hour, and full time police officers and highway and public works crews have contracts that govern their wages.

Chief McGuire said he has assigned two TCOs, outside of those who are already on duty, to manage traffic on Bay Street on Tuesday nights while the Sag Harbor Community Band plays its free concerts at the American Legion. The band also encumbers several parking spaces for spectators in front of the legion. Village records show the band paid a $25 permit application fee, but has not been asked to pay for police department resources or parking space fees. The law enacted in April says blocking off parking spaces normally costs $50 per parking space per day.

Thomas Rickenbach, the band’s treasurer, said he had been told by Mayor Sandra Schroeder that for events lasting less than two hours, such as the band’s weekly 90-minute performances, the new village law did not apply. He simply sent a letter to the village administration and the police chief advising them of the band’s performance dates and times, along with a certificate of insurance, and received a confirmation letter in return.

As of yet, there is no provision in the law exempting events lasting less than two hours on village property. Mayor Schroeder declined to be interviewed.

The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce is being charged a base fee of $2,985 for use of Long Wharf and Marine Park for HarborFest over two days in September, but the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, with short performances at various locations throughout the village over two days, is being charged slightly more, $3,115.

“It’s just so hard to judge if it’s fair when there’s no consistency in how they’re applying these charges to people,” said Kelly Dodds, president and co-artistic director of the music festival. “I don’t have anything to compare it to other than, say, the Chamber of Commerce event, but the music festival is on such a smaller scale than HarborFest. If you take it from that perspective, I don’t think it’s fair.”

Dancing in Marine Park at last year’s Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

She said the increased fees would lead them to do more fundraising efforts before the event even begins. It also has the festival rethinking where to hold its musical performances. The festival uses Windmill Park, for instance, for about 30 minutes for a drum circle on the first day of the festival, but is being asked to pay the full $250 day rate. The village has not asked the festival to pay for use of Carruther’s Alley or for music performances at the Civil War monument.

“We might not use as many village properties,” Ms. Dodds said. “We can’t take a huge risk. We’re a small non-profit. We have to change our footprint a little bit. Sag Harbor is not a huge village. No matter where we go, it’s still going to be a walkable, great event. We’d rather spend time planning it and getting excited about it.”

At last year’s Paddle for Pink event at Havens Beach.

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is holding an event on August 4 at Havens Beach, is erecting a tent there on August 2 and taking it down on August 5. It is being charged for two days at Havens Beach, a total of $500, plus an $80 deposit for potential sanitation services to be refunded if not used. Maria Baum, a Sag Harbor resident who chairs that event, the “Paddle for Pink,” and a separate fundraising party, called the fees “very reasonable” and said it would cost organizations far more money to hold events on private property.

“I think the fee structure was too low before, to be honest,” Ms. Baum said. “I’m so grateful that we can even have events like this in Sag Harbor. I totally understand why Sag Harbor needs to have revenue to keep the village looking and operating the way it does, which is why we want to have events here.”

Long Island ABATE, which stands for “American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education,” often honors veterans with motorcycle runs and rode through Sag Harbor to Havens Beach on June 10. It paid $250 for use of the beach, but avoided paying for village police and TCO services after more than 20 members of the Sag Harbor Fire Department offered to direct traffic that day. Fire Chief Bruce Schiavoni said the department volunteered to help; it also hung an American flag over Bay Street for the riders.

“Our Veterans of Foreign Wars knows this group and a lot of our members are veterans,” he explained. “We do it with groups that are close to the heart.”

The start of this year’s Katy’s Courage on Long Island Avenue. Gavin Menu photo

Katy’s Courage, which held a 5K run/walk through the Redwood neighborhood in April, was charged $129 to cover police personnel, while the organization In Jordan’s Honor is being asked to pay $2,500 for Jordan’s Run, a 5K event to be held July 29. Both organizations expected good turnouts: Katy’s Courage had about 700 runners and 100 volunteers, and Jordan’s Run is anticipating 900 runners as well as some volunteers.

Chief McGuire has called those two events “apples and oranges,” explaining that due to its route through more main thoroughfares, Jordan’s Run makes it “one of the most labor-intensive events in the village.”

Katy’s Courage “was far more manageable and was contained to that side of the village,” Chief McGuire said. “I do support these causes. It gets dicey because we run a 24-hour operation here. I also have to have at least two people who need to sleep so they can come back at night or in the event of an emergency …When these things go on, we also have to be responsible to the people we need to provide services to who are not at these events.”

JoAnn Lyles, who runs the organization In Jordan’s Honor, has also paid $500 to Southampton Town for police services in North Haven and Noyac on the roads. She was also initially asked to provide portable toilets and a handwashing station, but the village withdrew that request after acknowledging her event has use of school facilities.

“It feels like any sponsorships we do get is just going to pay the village fees. It’s a hardship right away,” said Ms. Lyles, who initially described feeling “shocked” when she saw the village’s fee request. “Last year because we had to get signage it wasn’t such a good fundraiser, so this was going to be the first year that gets us some money in the bank to let us offer some awards and maybe extend our reach past Pierson. I feel cautious over what we can do.”

Mr. Corish acknowledged the two events’ numbers “are substantially different.”

“Maybe that needs another look, but policing a run, one in July and one in April, may account for some of that difference,” he said.

Chief McGuire said after events are done, an actual cost of village services will be tallied and any unused portion of event fees will be refunded to the organization that paid them. Conversely, Ms. Kamper said, if additional staffing costs are incurred, those will have to be paid, too.

Mr. Corish said the village board is constantly trying to maintain balance on behalf of everyone in the village.

“A prosperous Sag Harbor is in everybody’s best interest,” he said. “We struggle with this all the time — what’s the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

The fees and encumbrance discussion, he said, was held in a “very public and open forum.”

“I think what the village has done … is tried to be fair to everybody,” Mr. Corish said. “Fair to the taxpayers and fair to the people who host these events that are very important to Sag Harbor. If there really are unintended consequences, and they would have to be substantial, then obviously we would revisit it. … We don’t have any animosity toward any of these festivals, don’t want to drive them out of town. We’re just sort of trying to balance the scales a little bit.”