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Letters May 20, 2010

Posted on 21 May 2010

Protecting Sacred Cows

To the Editor: 

My good friend Mayor Brian Gilbride’s long-winded letter (“No Voodoo,” May 13, 2010) throws everything but the kitchen sink at my recent critique of the Village’s brand new budget.

However, he completely fails to deny my central point. Indeed, he even supports it. 

My whole point was that Village spending has continued to increase right through the current recession, even while average Village property values — and the real incomes of many Village residents — have declined sharply. 

Don’t take my word for it about the decline in property values — ask any real estate agent.

This amounts to a steep effective real tax rate increase, just like I predicted last year. 

Brian correctly notes that the “assessed value” of Sag Harbor Village property has continued to increase.

However, this only supports my point, which is that the Town and Village tax assessment process is badly broken.

This process facilitates voodoo budgeting because, especially during the current recession, measured changes in assessed valuations have lagged sharply behind actual changes in property values.

This has forced ordinary taxpayers to wait years for tax assessments to catch up with economic reality, and even to go through costly assessment appeals.

Brian also argues that the budgeted 3.88 percent increase in Village spending is largely due to “mandatory factors” beyond his control. 

I think that most taxpayers will understand that this is just Brian’s way of saying that certain sacred cows remain untouchable.

James S. Henry, Esq.

Sag Harbor

Tax Bill is the Problem

Dear Bryan,

Over the past few weeks we have read Mr. Henry’s view on Village finances and Mayor Gilbride’s response. I think that both missed the opportunity to simply and clearly address the real financial issue.

With due respect for Mr. Henry’s research, it does not matter what my assessment or property market value is or what the tax rate is — what matters is the tax bill I actually pay. That bill is my piece of the Village budget; rate and assessment simply distribute the cost of Village government among the property owners.

Mayor Gilbride’s responses are fundamentally correct, but ignore the problem presented in his first paragraph: “to make every attempt to keep any tax rate increase as minimal as possible”. The minimal increase is zero and the board did not achieve it.

The fact that non-tax revenues are down and that some increases are unavoidable distracts from the point that the board appears to have allowed expenditures to increase over the past few years without anticipating the imbedded cost increases they were creating, or failed to factor in the risk that non-tax revenues might decline, or was not willing to make hard choices on cuts, or all three.

We need all levels of government, and other tax-funded services, to start managing in the interest of the taxpayers and not offer excuses or rationalizations. Our discussion should focus on that interest — we need elected officials and discussion to focus on the BILL, the real financial issue.


Pierce W. Hance

Sag Harbor

The author is a former mayor of Sag Harbor – ed.

Not the Way Things are Done

To the Editor:

As a resident and local from Sag Harbor Village, I am writing in response to Mr. Horn’s objections in your paper last Thursday.

I would like to remind Ryan Horn that this is a small village in which all people have the right to sign petitions, vote and elect whomever they choose. Are Mr. Horn’s antics a page from the Southampton Town Hall Republican playbook?

Is Mr. Horn afraid of this election?

This is not how we, the people of Sag Harbor, behave.

As someone born and bred in this village, one would think you would know this and act like the “local” you are.

Perhaps you should remain at town hall where this type of behavior is common and acceptable.


Robert Pharaoh

Sag Harbor

Work Not on Hold

Dear Bryan,

In connection with election of the Sag Harbor Trustees, Ryan Horn has filed technical objections to the nominating petitions filed by Robby Stein and Bruce Stafford. Robby is running for reelection and has my full support. Robby has been an effective advocate and leader for many causes in his short time on the board. Robby has done excellent work with the sewer plant, helped create the new music ordinance, accessory buildings law and brought health information and resources to Village residents. Most importantly, Robby has been an effective listener and a great team member. Bruce is running to fill the vacancy created by Tiffany Scarlato. Bruce is a committed member of the community who has stated he is concerned with affordable housing. Bruce will be a welcome addition to the board.

Against the backdrop of a friendly and important local election, Mr. Horn his filed pages of technical objections to the signatures provided by Robby and Bruce. It certainly is Mr. Horn’s legal right to file the objections, however, I wonder if his time might be better spent explaining to the community what he will do for the Village. In Mr. Horn’s letter last week to The Express he stated that many of the changes facing the Village are on hold. I would suggest he attend a Village meeting to observe that the changes and challenges facing the Village are far from being on hold. The Village must address the detailed issues of taxes, development and quality of life every day.

It’s obvious from his extensive and detailed legal pleadings that Mr. Horn is committed to getting elected; however, getting elected is not the point. The point is to do best for the Village, which is a goal that is never on “hold”.


Timothy J. Culver

Sag Harbor

The author is a Sag Harbor Village trustee – ed.

Sowing Youthful Seeds

To Sag Harbor Youth,

I am writing this letter to you before the budget vote because the feelings I want to share are not influenced by any outcome of Tuesday’s tally.

I am a graduate (K-12) of Pierson and am pleased to have children in the 4th and 6th grades at my alma mater. Our family was recently surprised with the blessing of another on the way. With pride we will attend both a kindergarten celebration and high school graduation in 2016!

There are times I wish you youth could ease up and just be kids like my generation was, and I have to remind myself that you must deal with issues that we never had to. After all, we never questioned our security on our own soil, “don’t talk to strangers” was not a known quote by kindergarten age, warring nations were not commonplace news and for the most part, we unfortunately took our dear earth’s beauty for granted.

I have always believed that from struggle comes strength and reinforcement for who we are and what we desire to become. Just look at yourselves … you are not ones to settle. You are loyal stewards who try to preserve what is good and advocates who strive to improve that which has yet to be desired. One great example of your character is the formation of the Save Our School organization that has a mission aimed not just at rallying support for a budget to be passed, but at creating an interest in students to become educated and properly informed about the budget process. I was so impressed at a couple of school board meetings I attended to see the presence of members of your student body speak up about your future rather than have others debate about it in your absence. You chose to have an influence over the outcome of your future rather than wait to read about how others have decided it for you. With naiveté, my generation sometimes accepted status quo and rarely used our own voices to demand that we deserved better or at times did not know enough to have feelings that we deserved better. I had never attended a board meeting as a student. You are setting a standard for students to be aware of and take interest and participation in the process of forming their own future. Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, this accomplishment is a victory in and of itself.

Some have come back at you attempting to discredit you by telling you that your words were manipulated rather than sincere or justified. While your blood boiled, I hope your spirit was being welded and fortified. You will learn that when you stand up for a cause with full heart, those with opposing views will want to stab with fierceness. Please feel at an advantage with this knowing that the venomous words and actions that come out of them are only paired with the fear they have inside of them … for you and your tenacity.

Know with pride that you took some by surprise, those who did not have warning that our youth have guts, heart, substance, dedication and virtue. Those who do not know this about you have not taken the time to discover who you are … perhaps they don’t deserve to know you. Appreciating the contributions of our youth is a privilege that must be earned. It is earned by the simple investment of showing support by taking an interest and having faith in them. The reward to be reaped in later years is in witnessing the seeds we marveled at while watching them grow, become the majestic trees that branch out to umbrella over a promising future – for us all.

Thanks for your efforts and keep up the good work!

With love and respect,

Pam Miller,

Sag Harbor mom

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