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Town Board discusses STR compliance plans

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, a discussion on continuing a contract with a consultant turned into a councilman questioning a town employee’s motives for saying the consultant’s work is not productive and a waste of money.

The town has a contract with Host Compliance, a Seattle-based software company, to continue to manage the town’s short-term rental (STR) regulations, or, essentially, finding which property owners play by the rules and which do not.   The town’s contract with Host Compliance sunsets soon, and the board wanted to discuss if it was in the town’s interest to re-up.

Town Code Enforcement Officer Arthur Bloom said that Host Compliance’s reports contained information that he was already filing with the town. The reports — many of which Mr. Bloom said he hadn’t seen — provided town officials with monthly spread sheets of the address of an STR, tax map information, the contact name of someone associated with the property and online ads seeking short-term renters.

Mr. Bloom said he gathers all that information by himself, plus acts on complaints that people are in violation of the law, and can observe a situation and interview people face-to face. Host Compliance, on the other hand, he said, operates remotely.

“If it was up to me, don’t spend the money,” Mr. Bloom said. “We can do this for free.”

A total package of services offered by Host Compliance would cost more than $20,000 annually, but Supervisor Gerry Siller has said that the company was providing “an a la carte menu” of services. He estimated the town might spring for several services for a total of about $10,000.

There was some confusion when Mr. Bloom said he hasn’t seen reports from Host compliance, when Supervisor Gerry Siller said the town was receiving them monthly. Mr. Bloom said he was out of the email loop on the reports.

“You should have access to the reports,” Mr. Siller said. “What the heck have we been doing for the last two months if not looking at reports?”  

Mr. Siller reminded Mr. Bloom that there had been a June ZOOM meeting of town officials and Host Compliance, which Mr. Bloom attended. Reminded of it, Mr. Bloom characterized the meeting as a “sales pitch.”

He again reiterated that, in his opinion, re-upping with Host Compliance would be a waste of money.

Councilman Jim Colligan said that the company was a help to the town and continuing the contract “has nothing to do with your job or reducing your hours.” Addressing Mr. Bloom, he said, “I don’t know if you thought it was a threat.” And he speculated if Mr. Bloom had given “Host Compliance a fair shot.”

Mr. Bloom responded that feeling “threatened was never a thought in my mind.”

Mr. Bloom then returned to the idea that the consultant “doesn’t go out to inspect properties,” but his job involved “a lot of legwork and expertise.”

Councilman Albert Dickson reminded Mr. Bloom that he had been part of the June meeting. “And we’re just now hearing that you haven’t seen any reports?” he said. “In August?”

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams suggested a small working group get together to discuss the issue and report back. Her colleagues were in agreement.

In other business: Animal Control Officer Beau Payne and Dr. James Bevilacqua, chairman of the Deer & Tick Committee, reported on new guidelines for controlling ticks on the Island. The committee has ceded one of its objectives to reduce tick-borne illnesses, when it closed the 4-poster program — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin.

The committee will now work on educational programs to alert the public on the dangers of ticks through newspaper ads and on social media, and continue to attempt to reduce the deer herd on Shelter Island.