Elephant in the Room: Ocean Beach Board Meeting 1/27/18

“Big changes in Ocean Beach,” is how Mayor James Mallott predicted the shape of things to come, as he addressed the audience at the Ocean Beach Board Meeting of Village Trustees on Saturday, January 27 at Islip Fire Department.

While ferry service had been restored for several days, the meeting was planned for the downtown Islip location when the bay was still frozen. It would have been confusing to change venues midstream. So with an attendance of about 25 people sitting in the unfamiliar chairs, turnout was not better or worse than an average mid-winter meeting held on Fire Island.

Mallott mentioned many things in his mayor’s report: he stated that $5.5 million in grant reimbursements have been received since last June; that a state/federal combination “green infrastructure” grant for $791,000 was recently awarded as a zero-interest loan approved by the EFC (NY Environmental Facilities Corporation). The latter achievement he credited to the village’s Triple A bond rating, and later said it will save Ocean Beach $26, 000 a year for the next 30 years. There was mention of a new computerized building permit process, still in its beta stages, and discussion about how the new well to be installed at 503 Bayberry Walk was progressing. He also mentioned progress in negotiations between the Village and Ocean Beach Youth Group (OBYG). Details are still being worked out, but he did say there would be no takeover of the private not for profit, an idea which became a sore spot last summer.

It was toward the end of his report that he finally addressed the elephant in the room. What is all this talk of a mainland satellite office about?

“It’s something that we’re looking at,” said Mallott. “Not that we would close the Village Office, not that we would abandon the Village Office…We have not made up our minds if it’s a good idea, or bad idea. We will only go forward and bring this idea to the public once we have fully vetted the idea ourselves. There has been discussion in executive session, what happens in executive session doesn’t always stay in executive session – but that’s a whole other subject.”

The Mayor further stated that damage after Hurricane Sandy “left the village in chaos for six months” as part of the impetus for exploring the idea now.

“Are we doing this to benefit the village, or its employees?” asked former village trustee Steven Einig. “When you decided to make elected officials salaried, the public did not get much opportunity for input… there are still bad feelings.”

“We are cognizant of any practical or perceived erosion of footprint in Ocean Beach,” Trustee Christopher Norris chimed in. “But this would not be the case.”

“That’s what you say now,” Dale Wycoff responded back from the audience. “What will future boards decide? Don’t turn us into a six-month village!”

“Closing the [Ocean Beach] Village Office is not on the table,” Trustee Brian Power answered. But he went on to say the comparison audience members were making between Ocean Beach employees and that of neighboring Fire Island School faculty was “flawed.”

“A teaching position at Fire Island School is a premium position,” said Power. “It’s a cherry job for a teacher!”

“As is a position at Ocean Beach,” Wycoff retorted.With the public hearing scheduled to begin, Mallott closed his mayor’s report, signaling this undecided matter would be left for another day.

Things proceeded forward in routine fashion after that. The public hearing to consider a local law on the installation, maintenance, and billing practices of water meters went on a little too long as some audience members drifted into tangent subjects not related to the matter at hand. The law was adopted upon the hearing’s conclusion. A polling place for the upcoming election in June was approved. Change in work orders for Windswept and the ferry terminal were both ratified.

Then the resignation of former village employee Jessica Molloy was also formally accepted. According to Mallott, Miss Molloy has moved to Florida due to the high cost of living on Long Island. He further hinted that a resignation such as this was evidence of why a satellite office was necessary, but the audience did not appear swayed by this parallel.

Agenda Item 12 was a reissue resolution to continue the winter opening of CJ’s Restaurant. Seems the decades old driving permit connected to Fire Island’s sole year round dining establishment was recently revoked by Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) due to “lack of use”.

“FINS in its infinite wisdom,” quipped Mallott in disgust. He had also called out FINS as being “not cooperative” when it came to issuing temporary “ice-over” permits during the weeks that ferry service was out of commission.

CJ’s functions as a bar, eatery, as well as convenience store for Ocean Beach and neighboring communities during the off-season, and there was strong sentiment in the room that the permit’s reinstatement was essential. The board’s unanimously passed resolution will not restore the permit in itself, but the collective show of support will hopefully compel FINS to revisit the matter.

As the meeting was winding to a close, one of the final items was notice for sale of unpaid taxes. The board acknowledged this resolution was largely proforma, as they expect most of the unpaid liens to be settled before the published auction date of March 3, with the exception of PSEG Long Island… but why not PSEG Long Island? Because the utility will not recognize the village’s routine overrides to the two-percent tax caps in recent years, so the lien keeps snowballing.

“This not just a PSEG and Ocean Beach situation,” Trustee Power was quick to point out. “It’s their belief that they don’t have to pay above the two-percent tax cap.

”Since the two-percent tax cap was signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in 2011, the mechanism of village board sanctioned overrides have increased the total Ocean Beach tax rate by 48 percent over six years. If parallels are being drawn, perhaps this fact is contributing to why the notion of a satellite office is being met with skepticism.

For more information about the proposed satellite Ocean Beach Village Office, see our article published on January 25, 2018: https://fireislandnews.com/satellite-station-an-ocean-beach-mainland-office