PATCHOGUE

For 70 years town renews ferry lease, then rejects it

Davis Park Ferry now has to bid

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In the early 1950s, an article appeared in Mademoiselle magazine written by Betty Friedan, describing the efforts of Fred Sherman and his wife, Kiki, in establishing the Davis Park community. Fred Sr. had already founded Davis Park Ferry, which ran between Patchogue and Fire Island in 1947.

“Kiki had two small children then and would take them along as she delivered groceries and ice to the residents there,” said Stephanie Sherman, whose husband, Charles, was one of Kiki’s three children that included Matthew and Fred Jr.

Matthew and Stephanie Sherman have run the company since Charles died last year from a heart attack. (Fred senior died in 1982; the remaining brother Fred is not involved.) “We had a lease with the town of Brookhaven to use the Sandspit and Davis Park marinas since at least around 1948 or ‘49, and it was always 10 years, to my knowledge,” said Matt Sherman.

And it was always renewed by Brookhaven Town. Except now.

The Shermans requested a one-year extension that included an increase in their yearly $45,295 payment to $49,000, well before the Dec. 31 expiration date, a coda in the contract that specified up to five one-year extensions at the pleasure of the town. The Shermans were denied by the town, who put out an RFP Dec. 24. They will now have to bid along with other ferry companies who wish to apply.

“We’ll bid,” said Stephanie Sherman.

Councilman Neil Foley said the RFP is due back Jan. 29 and will be awarded Feb. 11. But the RFP presents a bit of a quandary

Should the Shermans be approved, the ferry service would resume as usual. But if not, anyone who runs the route would be required to apply to the county for a license, even if they already have one, said Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). There’s a report that the county’s Budget Review Office is required to conduct on the rate charged, then legislative meetings and a public hearing.

“If an RFP was awarded in mid-February to a new company, even with a license, I don’t see the license and rate approved until April 20 or mid-May,” Calarco said.

The RFP’s schedule of ferry service stipulates ferry service starting close to March 15. It’s one of six schedule criteria.

“We have people who open their homes in March,” said Stephanie Sherman. “A lot rent the homes out and want to get work done.”

Foley gave a heads-up to the Shermans’ lawyer at the time last February. “I knew it was an unfortunate time and knew it wasn’t easy, but it’s a legal process,” he said. “Through 2020, I spoke to their attorneys several times, then to Matt in October.”

Stephanie Sherman said in July there was an understanding through their lawyer and the town’s attorney they would get a lease extension; in October they found out it was denied.

Foley said the town’s decision was a financial one. “They pay $45,000 a year [the Shermans also pay the utilities for the buildings, and the lease amount would increase with the extension], the town appraised everything and felt they would go in a different direction,” he said.

Foley said the town was trying to prepare for loss of revenue in 2025-26 when the landfill closed and began reviewing all town contracts two and a half years ago.

The RFP stipulates credit card use. Matt Sherman said the company installed that capability last September. “The ability to accept credit cards, in our world, slows up the line, but we put it in anyway,” he said. “There was some scheduling issues and we agreed to changing schedules as need be. Last year, things changed drastically; people were working from home, so we try to change things.

“We were never told why the town wouldn’t renew our lease and I think that’s unfair.”

Stephanie Sherman pointed out they lost $240,000 last year and 20,000
passengers because of COVID; the death of her husband was a shock still being felt.

The Davis Park Association knew there was an RFP coming out and went to the Shermans with a wish-list in addition to what they were already running as a schedule, said vice president John Lund.

“The town put that into the RFP,” he said. “We suggested they move to a situation [in which] you needed to be able to move 500 people per hour as opposed to the size of the boats. They came back with an addendum.”

Stephanie Sherman said that Davis Park is the only community they service. “There are only 248 houses on Davis Park,” she said of Davis Park, with its three-quarters of a mile of beachfront and small commercial area. “It makes a big difference when you bid. The other ferry companies service more than one community.”

Mayor Paul Pontieri weighed in.

The Shermans have been in business for 70 years and you can’t throw that out,” he said. “As a mayor of the Village of Patchogue, they’re a Patchogue family. Are there improvements that need to be made? There’s no business that doesn’t need it, but with the year that we’re in, the pandemic, the loss revenue and of a very important member of the family, my hope is that they will be able to operate.”

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