Village Board Calls for Standards Before Waiving Licensing Fees for Non-Profits

Kelly Dodds, president of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, addressing the Village Board on August 13. Peter Boody photo

Kelly Dodds, president of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, didn’t get what she wanted from the Village Board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday: a waiver of the $250 a day “licensing” fee the organization must pay to use Marine Park and Windmill Beach. The fee applies to each location so would total $500 a day.

But Ms. Dodds, who says the non-profit festival is on a tight budget and has been asking since May for a fee waiver for the September event, came away with the hope that the board by next month will be in a position to grant her request.

By then, it will have drafted, aired publicly and possibly adopted a village code amendment setting the standards for granting licensing fee waivers to non-profit organizations using public property.

The festival, which features two evening concerts that require admission and many daily performances around the village that are free, is set for the weekend of September 28 and 29 with early events on September 26 and 27.

Ms. Dodds made it clear she is not asking the board to waive reimbursements for the village’s police and other costs in handling the event, which totaled nearly $3,300 last year, she said. She did ask that the village look at how police costs are appraised.

At least some board members on Tuesday appeared willing to consider waiving the Music Festival’s licensing fees but they agreed with Village Attorney Denise Schoen and Trustees James Larocca and Aidan Corish that standards were required first.

“If we have a history of somewhat subjective” application of fees and costs, Mr. Larocca said, the board requires “an explicit process” to grant exemptions.

“I would like to create language to allow us to do what needs to be done,” Mr. Corish said.

The mayor and trustees voted 5-0 to have Ms. Schoen draft a proposed code amendment “to clarify our standards” for exemptions from licensing fees, as Trustee James Larocca put it in his motion. The exemption would not apply to reimbursements for the village’s police and other personnel costs.

It was Mr. Larocca who urged the board last month, when Ms. Dodds also aired her plea, to give the Music Festival a break. He said the village had applied its licensing fees in a way that has been “totally subjective and … totally inconsistent.”

One board member seemed less than happy with a fee waiver for the festival. Trustee Thomas Gardella said he’d been approached by veterans and others who asked why the festival shouldn’t pay the same fees that the organizers of Jordan’s Run do. Jordan’s Run is an annual 5K race held in July to raise money for veterans in honor of Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, “a hometown hero who gave his life” to protect his fellow soldiers, Mr. Gardella noted.

“They paid the bill” for police costs and all other fees, he said. “I just want to put that in context with this whole discussion.”

In her presentation, Ms. Dodds noted that licensing fees were not levied for free events that were open to the public until 2018. That year, the board adopted a code change requiring the payment. It has “not been enforced across the board with all organizations,” she said, such the Community Band, which gives concerts on summer Tuesday nights on Bay Street, or the Lions Club, which sells Christmas trees every December at Windmill Beach.

“We’re a big supporter” of the Community Band, she added. “Anything that’s free to the public ought to be supported by the government.”

She said 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, she said.

“It was a bit of a shock. There was no communication. We didn’t understand what had changed,” she said.

She noted that the festival pays all its musicians and makes a “very small profit” that it “donates back to the community” for music programs in local schools.

When the village estimated the festival’s 2018 costs would be $3,000, Ms. Dodds said, she and her board gave up on using Marine Park on three days, saving $750, but paying $250 to use Windmill Beach for a half-hour opening ceremony.

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

During the first public comment portion of Tuesday’s board meeting, musician and music historian Joe Lauro praised the festival as a boon to musicians and urged that “the town embrace it as much as you can.”