By Annette Hinkle
Eric Cohen is a board member on the new organization Serve Sag Harbor.
What’s the purpose of the new organization?
We largely see ourselves as a funding organization to fund things that are perceived needs in the area. I think that will come from the people who live here.
If there are other groups in Sag Harbor doing things and they need money to make them happen, we to hope to offer grants to them if we think it fits in with the mission.
Serve wants to fund good ideas to keep what we have and make it better.
Serve Sag Harbor is an outgrowth of Save Sag Harbor. How are the groups different?
It’s a completely different organization, but its roots are somewhat similar. The people who started Serve came from Save and one person left that board to avoid conflict. Serve Sag Harbor is actively seeking people like me who have nothing to do with Save so they’re separate.
Save Sag Harbor is a 501-C4 — they can be political, so they are a non profit, but not tax exempt. Serve Sag Harbor is a 501-C3 — we can accept donations and give people tax exempt credit for that, which helps raise money which is clearly a major thing.
Save is really focused on things like lobbying, like with the Harbor Heights plan. They can take stands, hire lawyers and lobby the government.
Serve is not doing that, we’re not lobbying the government. We would like to help where we can but do not advocate.
What do you see as your first project?
The first thing that we have focused on is traffic calming — the need is great as anyone here this summer saw.
Semi officially while Serve was in the formative process, a couple people went around to ask for donations to buy those speed signs that show how fast you’re going then offered them to the village. That’s sort of still happening.
That’s one initiative Serve Sag Harbor took on.
How did this come about?
We took the results of a traffic calming workshop and presented at the planning and village boards. At the time we said Serve was an organization that would like to help the village focus on traffic calming and asked the mayor and board members if they would be interested in setting up an informal committee to work on this.
We had nice representation from the village, [Police Chief] Tom Fabiano, [Department of Works head] Dee Yardley, [urban planner] Jonas Hagen and citizens. It was a nice discussion.
In that meeting we informally agreed to work on Main Street and Jermain Avenue. Two sets of recommendations came out for those two streets — one is quick and easy, add paint and planters, one is to really calm those streets. We picked those two because they are seriously in need of slowing down. Serve is going to try to raise money to pay Jonas Hagen to do this.
Another thing that came out of this is the village has done work on bike routes. They exist but are not marked. We said, ‘Let’s get them marked.’ Dee said a pail of paint is all they need and they can do it in the spring.
So Serve Sag Harbor is a catalyst to get things moving.
The village doesn’t have a lot of personal or departments like the town. It’s just a few volunteers and a couple paid people who are already overworked. The obvious thing for us is help them to define what needs to be done, raise money to do it and be in a position to move things along.
A lot of people would say it’s government’s job to do this sort of stuff.
This is why I said yes to becoming a board member on Serve Sag Harbor. I’ve been involved in civic stuff for decades. I’ve been on the school board. I’m not a big believer in government — it’s a practical, not a political statement. There are certain things government does well and others where people do better. I love the idea of self reliance, people saying that needs to be done, let’s do it.
When we said we want to get behind worthwhile projects to make the village a better place to live, I’m there.
So what’s next for Serve Sag Harbor?
We want to find things the community is aching for, have agreement on and help bring them about. Except for the fact we started with traffic calming, which all of us on the board are concerned about, I don’t think we’ll be sitting here with issues to push down peoples’ throats.
We want to find out what the village wants and needs. Our focus now is on building a financial base for our organization so we can fund worthwhile ideas when they are presented. We decided we will have a grant program with money to give. Anyone can apply for a grant but the criteria is, it has to be in line with our mission statement.