. . .And Give Homeowners A Tax Break In The Morning
Newsday reports on community efforts to dissolve the Gordon Heights Fire District in the Town of Brookhaven, where tax levies are the highest on the Island.
An aberration, or the start of a trend to eliminate, consolidate, and hold the line on taxes?
Call to town to dissolve fire district
BY BRANDON BAIN
Newsday Staff Writer
Residents of the Gordon Heights Fire District, angered over having to pay the highest fire district taxes on Long Island, last night presented the Brookhaven Town Board with a petition to dissolve the fire district.
The residents - some wearing green shirts to symbolize money - submitted a petition with signatures from more than 400 homes, well over the 51 percent of district households required to force the town board to hold hearings on the issue. Eventually, the town board might have to vote on the matter. The signatures are being reviewed by the town.
Experts say no fire district in New York State ever has been dissolved. Some members of the mostly black fire district have brought up concerns that race could be a factor in the drive to shut it down.But residents denied that. "It's all about money," said Rosalie Hansen, a Gordon Heights resident who collected signatures. "They're trying to make it a racial thing but it's only about the color green, and that's money."
Gordon Heights Fire District Commissioner Chesley Ruffin said dissolving the district could be damaging to fire safety in the area and wouldn't guarantee a reduction of taxes."Do I feel taxes in New York are high? Yes," he said. "But they are giving people false hopes."
Fire officials in Gordon Heights, a predominantly black community, have said the department's history as a black organization must be preserved.Residents, who started petitioning to close the firehouse on Hawkins Avenue in April, pay on average $1,344 in fire taxes, more than three times what is paid by residents in neighboring Medford ($358) and Yaphank ($398). Fire department officials blamed high taxes on the lack of a commercial tax base in the district.
The small, volunteer district has a $1.48-million budget and protects roughly 800 homes.
If the fire district is dissolved, several scenarios are possible.
A nearby district's fire commissioners could vote to absorb Gordon Heights, or the town board could take on Gordon Heights as a fire protection district like Moriches, collecting taxes and contracting with a nearby fire department to protect its homes."
Many people are losing their homes, not to fires but to high taxes," said Melvin Robinson, a Gordon Heights resident since 1942 who pays $1,400 in fire taxes.
Also at last night's meeting, the Brookhaven Town Board passed its Energy Star resolution requiring that all new homes in the town be built under Energy Star standards for energy efficiency. Brookhaven Town officials are expected to meet today with Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone to discuss more energy-reducing initiatives in their respective towns.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
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A follow-up in Newsday reports a possible solution short of dissolution of the fire district -- the annexation of adjoining commercial and industrial properties, which would increase the tax base, according to the plan's proponent, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Keppert. [READ, Still Chasing Fire District Solution.]
Of course, if you take tax-producing properties from one fire district, you deprive a neighboring district -- and its residents -- from tax revenues. The old "borrow from Peter to pay Paul." And Mary gets stuck picking up the tab!
Has anyone in the Town of Brookhaven ever considered CONSOLIDATION of the Gordon Heights Fire District into one or more of the neighboring districts? Surely, this thought would never cross the minds of the Gordon Heights Fire Commissioners, who wouldn't voluntarily relinquish turf, let alone control, even if it meant a substantial tax savings for the roughly 800 homeowners who reside within the district.
Where a higher power -- whether the Town of Brookhaven or the State Legislature -- refuses or simply neglects to intervene for the benefit of the greater good (read as, the homeowners of Gordon Heights), it is wholely appropriate, and in this case, most commendable, for residents to take the bull by the horns and seek self-help.
The self-help here comes in the form of a Petition to dissolve the fire district, signed by more than half (over 400) of the homeowners of Gordon Heights, presumably forcing the Brookhaven Town Board to vote "yea" or "nay" on dissolution.
Should the Gordon Heights Fire District be dissolved, its Commissioners will have no one to blame but themselves, and local residents will surely have something to cheer about.
At the very least, Gordon Heights residents should be very proud of themselves -- and the rest of us could take a lesson in emulation here -- for picking up the ball dropped in their laps by State and local government. We'd like to see more such activism by community advocates across the length and breadth of our Long Island!
This is one to keep an eye on, as concerns the fate of special districts on Long Isand in the face of out-of-control property taxes. Residents For Efficient Special Districts please take note!