Sag Harbor Village Repeals Licensing Fees

Kelly Dodds, president of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, asking the Sag Harbor Village Board in July to waive the licensing fees for the festival’s use of village properties in late September. Peter Boody photo

The non-profit Sag Harbor American Music Festival will not have to pay a $250-a-day licensing fee each for the use of Marine Park and Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor during its two-day run of free live music performances late this month following the 3-1 vote of the Village Board at its monthly work session to abolish the levies for everybody.

Trustee Robert Plumb, who favored keeping or even raising the fees for what he called valuable village assets, voted against Trustee James Larocca’s motion to eliminate the charges, which was seconded by Trustee Thomas Gardella.

The vote took place at the board’s monthly work session on Wednesday, August 28. Not present for the vote was Trustee Aidan Corish, who in July called for setting clear standards before considering the Music Festival president Kelly Dodds’s request that its upcoming fees be waived.

“We’re thrilled!” Ms. Dodds commented a few days after the board’s decision. “Free community gatherings are important to Sag Harbor’s vitality. There are many local volunteer organizations, and all are worthy of support.”

The Music Festival this year will feature evening concerts on September 26 and 27 that require admission and many daily performances around the village on the weekend of September 28 and 29 that will be free and are open to the public.

Village officials had some internal communications before the board’s work session on Wednesday about lowering the fee to $50 instead of waiving it for the Music Festival. Launching the discussion that led to the vote on August 28, Mr. Plumb opposed the reduction. “I don’t understand why the fee wouldn’t be higher,” he said.

Mr. Larocca, who has favored a waiver for the Music Festival, also opposed a $50 fee as bringing in “nominal revenue.” He repeated his complaint that past applications of licensing fees have been inconsistent.

There is “a narrative surrounding each one,” he said, referring to the Farmers Market, the Lions Club Christmas tree sale, and the Community Band’s Tuesday evening performances on Bay Street every summer, “that comes up with a different result.” With the revenue so nominal, he added, “Let’s not charge a fee” but keep charging for police, clean-up and bathroom services on a cost basis, “and dispense with this gaggle of inconsistent fees.”

Clerk-Treasurer Beth Kamper noted that the current fees were codified by the Village Board just last year for only four properties: Windmill Beach, Marine Park, Long Wharf and Havens Beach but not the site of the Farmers Market.

“That’s all part of Marine Park,” Mr. Larocca argued, offering a motion to “dispense with the per diem fees at these and all locations. I think what we’ve done with the Music Festival” — charging it licensing fees in the past and so far rebuffing its requests for a waiver this year — “is seen as unfriendly.”

“So private events at Havens Beach will have no fee?” asked Ms. Kamper, explaining that the only exceptions to the current licensing fees have been the Lions Club for its Christmas tree sale at the John Ward Memorial Windmill and the Community Band, which pays no encumbrance fee for taking up multiple parking spaces during its weekly performances on Bay Street in the summer.

Former Trustee Robbie Stein, who was observing the meeting, said when he was on the board years ago it had waived any fees for the Farmers Market because it wanted to encourage the establishment of a farmers market in the village.

Addressing a point he had made at the August Village Board meeting, Trustee Gardella noted that the sponsors of the Jordan Haerter 5K Veterans Memorial Run in late July paid only police and custodial fees, but no licensing or encumbrance fees; his point last month had been that its sponsors sought no waivers. But on August 28, he went on to second Mr. Larocca’s motion. “Why reduce it to $50? It’s such a nominal” amount, he said; eliminate it completely and end “the picking and choosing” of who pays and who doesn’t.

Ms. Dodds has been asking the Village Board since May for a waiver of the licensing fees but not the police custodial charges the festival pays, which last year totaled $3,300. She has questioned how those charges have been calculated, however.

Last month, the mayor and trustees — after hearing Ms. Dodds renew her plea — agreed to have Village Attorney Denise Schoen draft a code amendment “to clarify our standards” for exemptions from licensing fees, as Trustee James Larocca put it in his motion then. The exemption would not have applied to reimbursements for the village’s police and other personnel costs.

Ms. Dodds told the board at its August meeting that, in 2016, its sixth year, the festival paid less than $200 in fees and reimbursements. Then in 2017, its payment to the village went to nearly $2,000. When the village estimated the festival’s costs for 2018 would be $3,000, Ms. Dodds said, she and her board decided to skip using Marine Park. With a fee waiver now in place, her hope has been to return the festival to Marine Park this year.

The festival’s budget is $55,000 plus $15,000 in in-kind donated services and sponsorships, Ms. Dodds has told the board. Some 86 percent of the budget covers the fees paid to the performers, she said. There is no paid staff. Profits are donated to the music programs in the Sag Harbor school system.