It has been over year and a half since former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy first requested that the Village of Sag Harbor take ownership of Long Wharf. But since that time, little has actually happened toward that goal aside from lengthy debates over the roles the village and county should play in maintaining the wharf.
For Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, the November election of Steve Bellone as the new Suffolk County Executive opens a new round of discussions about the fate of Long Wharf. These are discussions he would like to see resolved sooner rather than later so the village can fiscally prepare if it is to take on an estimated $100,000 in additional annual maintenance costs to sustain the wharf.
“The best fix for the village would be for the county to offer another 10-year lease to the village,” said Mayor Gilbride on Monday. “But they have to at least give me some direction after all this time.”
The village’s lease of Long Wharf with Suffolk County expired last year. While the village continues to insure Long Wharf and take care of its daily maintenance, as it has through the course of its lease, technically it has no rights to Long Wharf.
Over a year ago, county officials offered to sell Long Wharf and the adjacent Windmill Beach to the Village of Sag Harbor for one dollar. The county would not continue to pay for long-term maintenance under the deal, including $340,000 in repairs the county’s department of public works has estimated would be needed in the next five years.
However, the county legislature last summer failed to pass a bill giving ownership of Long Wharf and Windmill Beach to the village and later, in the fall, passed a resolution taking the decision completely out of their hands.
South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman supported the sale to Sag Harbor in the original vote. But in October, the legislature passed a resolution giving Commissioner of the Public Works Gil Anderson the right to sell or give Long Wharf, along with a number of other county roads currently maintained by smaller municipalities, to the towns or villages where the roads are located.
Anderson is now able to pass the ownership on without approval from the Suffolk County Legislature, but is not required to do so. Since then, the village has been waiting for a conclusion.
According to Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, in order to make a decision that is in the best interest of the county and the village, Bellone has asked Schneiderman to reconvene an advisory committee created by the county to discuss the future of Long Wharf.
“It is a very important asset and we need to make sure we are working together with the community on the future of Long Wharf while also understanding the very real fiscal challenges Suffolk County is facing,” said Schneider on Monday.
“In a broad sense, we are facing a deficit in the county that we inherited that could be as large as nine figures,” he continued. “If there is an ability to take some things off the books and allow for stronger local control, that is something we have to look at. That being said, this is an important asset, it means a lot to the community and has a lot of potential. So we don’t want to do anything rash.”
According to Schneider, Bellone hopes to have the committee reconvened some time in the next month.
“I think we have a county executive in Bellone who is really committed to downtown revitalization and working with towns and villages as a former town supervisor,” said Schneiderman on Monday. “So we have hit a pretty big reset button.”
Schneiderman said he looks forward to the county and village working together on what the future holds for Long Wharf. But Schneiderman added he would like to see the village open to concepts like a pilot program for a 20-person water taxi — an initiative he said could increase revenues on the wharf and also draw more visitors to downtown Sag Harbor.
If the county does agree to another 10 year lease, Schneiderman said he would like to see some revenue funneled to the county, which pays an average of $100,000 in debt service on large capital projects to maintain Long Wharf. Schneiderman added he would like to see the Village of Sag Harbor use the revenue from Long Wharf to pay the maintenance costs in full, but that any additional revenue could be shared between the county and the village.
However, Mayor Gilbride said the village brings in very little revenue over what is needed to provide daily maintenance of Long Wharf.
“We are insuring it, we are maintaining it, we plowed it this past weekend and sanded it,” said Mayor Gilbride. “I want to have a good working relationship with the County Executive and I think it would be a good thing for them to have a presence in Sag Harbor. We send a lot of sales tax revenue to the county that we don’t get back, so I know the village is contributing quite a bit to the county during the summer when things are rocking and rolling.”
Mayor Gilbride said if they county really wants to benefit from revenues from Long Wharf, they can have it, but then they have to police it, maintain it and handle dockage. Otherwise, said Mayor Gilbride, he is open to another lease with the county and even taking ownership of Long Wharf, despite the added fiscal burden the village would have to shoulder.
“It is an important part of Sag Harbor,” said Mayor Gilbride. “That is why I am the first mayor who has said we will take it.”