Long-Term Losers

“Show me the money”

   An increasingly popular idea among the owners of oceanfront properties on Long Island has been to organize into tax districts to fund erosion-protection measures, such as pumping millions of tons of sand onto narrowed beaches. For these property owners, the districts may seem attractive, but they may well delay the day of reckoning along the coasts at a time when a more flexible response to rising sea level is needed — one that would not almost guarantee that United States taxpayers would be asked to pony up to protect coastal vacation properties.
    Some eastern Southampton Town property owners are eager to establish a district like that in place in the Village of West Hampton Dunes; they are pushing the Town of Southampton to get a move on and schedule a hearing. However, at a post-Sandy meeting recently, one of the Bridgehampton organizers of the proposed tax district said cost estimates were rising sharply and that the district might have to ask for state or federal financial help.
    Governments with the power to levy and collect taxes on behalf of property owners are eligible, at least hypothetically, for funding from Albany and Washington. And there you have both the attraction and the problem with tax districts. It’s great for property owners, but not so hot for a country struggling to get out of recession and bring deficits under control.
    Pumping sand onto beaches is expensive. A first run at bolstering beaches in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton was priced in the neighborhood of $24 million. The huge cost — and the likely need for federal dollars — is something to consider with regard to eastern Southampton. It is also a consideration for a now-proposed downtown Montauk beach-nourishment district. In asking to establish a tax district in Montauk, proponents will tell you just how important Montauk’s motels and residential properties are for the local economy. This may be so, but as a famous actor once said, “Show me the money.”
    In the long run, it would probably be far less expensive for properties in at-risk zones to be purchased and returned to a natural state than for taxpayers at large to be asked to help pay to keep seasonally inhabited buildings where they should never have been built in the first place.