The Noah Hallock Homestead House in Rocky Point will get a...

The Noah Hallock Homestead House in Rocky Point will get a financial boost after voters approved a ballot measure allowing for the funding of cultural nonprofits using property tax revenue. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Just four months ago, Rocky Point Historical Society treasurer Ken Krapf worried the nonprofit might go broke.

Insurance and utility bills — and the cost of repairing flood damage at the Noah Hallock Homestead, the society's 3-century-old headquarters and local history museum — were putting the squeeze on the society's finances, Krapf said.

But the society's fiscal fortunes improved last week when the group joined a small but growing list of Long Island cultural nonprofits receiving tax revenue authorized by local school district voters.

Ballot win

Rocky Point residents casting ballots in May 21 school district elections voted 787 to 352 to approve a proposition allocating up to $35,000 annually to help fund the historical society. The average home in the district will pay about $5.66 in annual taxes, officials said, adding the tax is expected to remain in place as long as the society needs it.

"It means we can expand programs ... and just pay the bills," Krapf said Tuesday. "We're going to give a lot more field trips to the local district and maybe beyond the local district. ... Come next year, my smile will be bigger."

Officials of the Rocky Point history group said they made use of an obscure provision of state education law that permits school district taxpayers to fund local cultural institutions, such as museums and libraries.

Similar proposition

Besides Rocky Point, Westhampton Beach residents on May 21 approved a similar proposition, voting 519 to 163 to provide $100,000 annually to help fund the Greater Westhampton Historical Museum, formerly known as the Westhampton Beach Historical Society.

Sag Harbor residents last year voted 1,684 to 504 to allocate $75,000 per year for the Sag Harbor Historical Society.

State Education Department officials on Wednesday were not able to provide information on the law authorizing propositions benefitting nonprofits. 

Longtime observers of local public education said they had not heard of nonprofits receiving tax money authorized by school district referenda.

Hofstra University education professor Alan Singer said he wasn't familiar with the issue but said such propositions are “a good idea" if they help struggling nonprofits avoid insolvency.

"Small communities have very marginal funding," Singer said. "It looks like what you have is a plan to help them.”

'Uncharted territory'

Rocky Point schools Superintendent Scott O'Brien said he hadn't heard of nonprofits funded by school district propositions until historical society leaders approached him last year.

“It was definitely uncharted territory for us," O'Brien said, "and for them as well."

But district officials agreed to place the referendum on the ballot, he said, adding the district plans to have its younger students visit the Hallock house for field trips. "I think there’s a lot for our students to learn and gain from one of the oldest historical landmarks on Long Island,” he said.

Historical society president Suzanne Johnson said she reached out to the school district after the group's fundraising fell short of collecting the $35,000 per year it needs to pay its bills.

“Everybody expects museums to survive on [paid] memberships, but it doesn’t work so well anymore," Johnson said. "It doesn’t pay for the insurance and the utilities and the maintenance.”

Line on tax bill

Funding from the new tax, which will appear as a separate line on residents' tax bills, will allow the society to use other funds to finish repairs to the Hallock Homestead roof and other projects, Johnson said.

The house was damaged twice by floods in recent years, most recently in 2021 when remnants of Hurricane Ida left several feet of water in the basement, destroying a furnace and water heater, and damaging tea cups used for an annual fundraiser, she said. 

The society had raised $70,000 to match a private $70,000 grant to pay for repairs, Johnson said.

But that fundraising, and another effort to repair the weather-beaten roof, left society officials with few remaining funds to pay mundane expenses such as the lighting bill, she sad.

The house was built in 1721 by Noah Hallock, a Southold native who became Rocky Point's most prominent landowner, Johnson said. Eight generations of Hallock's descendants lived in the house before the family sold it in 1964, according to Johnson.  

Among items on display are period plates and saucers, a child's rocking horse, vintage glass bottles, paintings, photographs, pieces from a 1901 Long Island Sound shipwreck and a speaker from the shuttered Rocky Point Drive-In.

Gary Pollakusky, president of Rocky Point's civic association and chamber of commerce, said he voted for the proposition, setting aside concerns that other nonprofits may follow suit and create a "burden" for taxpayers.

He said the museum is an important part of local history.

“Obviously, nobody wants to see their taxes increase," Pollakusky said. "There are valuable programs and valuable resources in our community that are not just underfunded but certainly require attention."

At least three Long Island school districts in the past two years have asked residents to approve propositions allocating taxpayer dollars to nonprofit cultural organizations. Here are the results:

Rocky Point, May 21

Approved, 787 to 352, to raise up to $35,000 annually for the Rocky Point Historical Society.

Westhampton Beach, May 21

Approved, 519 to 163, to provide $100,000 annually to help fund the Greater Westhampton Historical Museum.

Sag Harbor, May 2023

Approved, 1,684 to 504, to allocate $75,000 per year for the Sag Harbor Historical Society.

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