Village of the Branch officials said the Smithtown Historical Society owes the village $2,500. The historical society’s president said the group couldn’t afford to pay the bill. Now the village is taking the group to court.
Branch Mayor Mark Delaney and Village Attorney Christopher Ring said that representatives of the historical society, based in the village off East Main Street, never reimbursed the village for money it paid to Smithtown’s Public Safety Department for security at 12 historical society events in 2016.
Municipal rules prevent the town department from billing private groups directly for the time of its officers, so the village fronted the money, Delaney and Ring said. When a conversation at a December village board meeting with historical society president Kathryn Tusa failed to produce the money, Ring filed a complaint in Suffolk County District Court.
According to meeting minutes, Tusa, a Smithtown lawyer, said the historical society didn’t have the money to pay the outstanding public safety bills.
In an interview last week, she said those minutes were inaccurate. “What I said was, ‘We can’t afford it.’ I said that because we’re a not-for-profit and our budget is in fact very tight. It wasn’t a discussed expense and it was a hardship for us.”
She declined to discuss the village’s claim further, but did say in an email that the historical society “has always cooperated fully with every demand of the village and we are attempting to resolve this issue amicably.”
The historical society operated at a loss nine out of 10 years from 2007 through 2016, according to tax records.
The exception was 2012, when the historical society sold development rights for some of its land for $953,750. The group finished that year with a surplus of more than $1 million. Net assets reached more than $3 million but have since declined to $2.5 million.
Tusa wrote in an email that the historical society still has salable rights worth $100,000.
And, she said, the historical society is “not really” operating at a loss. “We borrow from our endowment and then we pay it back.”
She did not give the size of the endowment, but said in an email that the historical society had “investment funds in excess of $760,000.”
The historical society hosts thousands of students and visitors annually and maintains a number of historic buildings at its 22-acre property. It sometimes rents one of those buildings, the Brush Barn, for private parties and wedding receptions.
Delaney said the village began requiring public safety officers at some events in response to residents’ complaints about noise at Brush Barn events.
The historical society had wanted to use a security company instead of public safety, Tusa said at the December meeting and had never discussed the town department’s price, according to minutes.
“We are extremely disappointed that it’s gotten to this point,” Delaney said in an interview. Ring said the predicament marked a first in his nearly 20 years representing the village: “I’ve never seen it in this village. Ever.”
Tusa said that historical society officers had recently completed a “strategic plan” to improve its finances, but did not respond to a request to share the plan.
She also said the group was searching for a replacement for the group’s executive director, who left earlier this month.