Shelter Island Reporter Editorials

Say yes to Historical Society budget

Every fall, a Town Board is faced with the challenge to finance its operations while keeping taxes in check. It’s no easy task and wasn’t simplified this year by a pandemic that increased expenses and decreased revenues.

That COVID-19 remains a factor for the foreseeable future means having to plan ahead for at least some part of the next year to bring extra expenses and lowered revenues.

We respect the hard work that has gone into crafting a 2021 budget. And we understand that even small amounts that can be shaved from expenses can add up to substantial savings.

Nonetheless, we believe that a cut of $10,000 from the $15,000 that has helped finance operating expenses at the Shelter Island Historical Society during at least the past 10 years is an error that should not stand.

Whether the town finds money from revenues that come in to one of its committees or needs to slightly raise the 3.6% anticipated tax hike the current proposal seeks, this funding should be restored.

Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams has advised her colleagues that $100,000 in spending is equal to about a 1% increase in taxes. She estimated the cost of restoring the Historical Society’s budget to the full $15,000 would cost a median level taxpayer about $2.30 more than would be due without adding back the $10,000 that’s proposed to be sliced.

Supervisor Gerry Siller has characterized the money that goes to the Historical Society as a charity, not a service for which the town must pay.

We don’t see it that way.

At the recent public hearing on the budget, Historical Society Treasurer Michael McClain said the organization serves the entire community and researchers interested in the Island use its resources regularly.

Students visit the Historical Society regularly. The Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board researches land it considers preserving for historical information on the properties, according to its chairman, Gordon Gooding.

Islanders attend many special events there. Its staff and resources have been a remarkable resource for the Reporter and for other researchers.

The money sought from the town is used to help finance the proper preservation of documents and materials so they don’t deteriorate. While financial records are kept by the town, there is no other repository of Shelter Island’s long and unique history.

The staff is tiny and the Society is dependent on the efforts of many volunteers to keep its costs low.

But those operating costs need support and are only partially covered by contributions and grants. Town officials need to recognize the value of the organization and continue to help fund the Historical Society for the relatively paltry sum of $15,000 a year. The Society’s principals and volunteers shouldn’t have to go hat in hand every year to beg for the money to keep this remarkable organization viable.

Veterans Day 2020

A tribute to Island veterans appeared on Monday in the midst of the pandemic. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

This week many of us are remembering those who have served and are serving in the armed forces.

We were reminded to take time to pause and honor them through the creative thinking and volunteerism of Islanders. Many American Legion Mitchell Post 281 members, the Shelter Island Police Benevolent Association and others, pitched in to make Veterans Day 2020 meaningful (see story, page 1).

Faced with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that is currently inflicting pain and death on most American communities, the Legion’s leadership under the direction of Commander Dave Clark, decided two weeks ago to cancel the traditional Veterans Day Services in the Center.

It was a wise move. As Commander Clark told the Reporter, “We would have hated it if someone got sick.”

But the team came up with a plan that can be witnessed in the Center, a parade of names of Island veterans from the firehouse to Wilson Circle.

Wednesday marked 102 years since the end of World War I, the war, it was said, to end all wars. But the armistice signed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 was, in effect, a cease-fire that lasted 20 years until the same warring parties resumed the carnage.

Originally known as Armistice Day and observed annually by Americans on Nov. 11, it was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1938. In 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day to honor those living and dead who served in uniform during times of war or peace.

Veterans are in the news this year for many good reasons, including the number who ran for public office, a spike in veteran candidates not seen since the end of World War II.

But other news of those who volunteered to serve their country is not good at all, with suicide and drug overdoses — as well as alcohol abuse — continuing to be some of the most common killers of veterans. Homelessness among veterans and those living in poverty is a national disgrace.

An election, it’s said, has consequences, and it’s the hope that the new administration in Washington will get a handle on the Department of Veterans Affairs that has seen problem after problem surfacing these last four years.

“The challenges at the V.A. are multifaceted,” said Terri Tanielian of the RAND Corporation, who researches veterans’ health concerns. “Recognizing that addressing these issues takes sustained leadership commitment, not sound bites, is essential if we are going to deliver on the promises to veterans at the V.A.”

Let’s hope things change for the better at the V.A. And this week, and every week, remember those who served and are serving our country.