Gordon Heights Resident Give Low Down On Local Fire District
Gina Previte's testimony before the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness -- Hofstra University, July 25, 2007
Good Morning Distinguished Commission Members:
My name is Gina Previte. I am a Suffolk County homeowner from Medford NY, and I am serviced by the Gordon Heights Fire District. My fire taxes alone were over $2,500.00 this year. This is almost $2,000 more than what a similar house paid around the corner because it is part of a different fire district.
The Gordon Heights Fire District has an incredible tax rate of $64.00 per $100 of home value, compared to the local average of $15.00 and a national average of $11.00. Ironically, Gordon Heights is a community that has one of the greatest foreclosure rates, a median income well under the County average and where 10% of the residents are living below poverty level.
The average fire district size in our Town of Brookhaven is approximately 10 square miles and is comprised of an average of 4,200 homes and 130 commercial entities to financially support it. On the other hand, The Gordon Heights Fire District is only 1.7 square miles, has less than 900 homes and has no commercial property. This is why our fire taxes are so out of line. Our tax base is simply too small to sustain it’s own fire district and things will only grow more disproportionate, since we have no future tax base left to absorb the rising costs and mandates.
Our Town Council, in an attempt to solve this issue, has explored the following options, which
all failed to address the problem on a meaningful or long term basis:
1. Rezone and develop any empty land;
2. Annex tax base from surrounding fire districts;
3. Budget Reduction;
4. Apply for grants.
Many people do not know that Gordon Heights is not a hamlet but a housing development name that spreads out among sections of four zip codes (Coram, Middle Island, Medford and Yaphank) who each have their own fire district, and which are currently servicing 50% of the Gordon Heights residents at a much lower fire tax rate.
Therefore, not everyone who lives in the area referred to as Gordon Heights pays their taxes to - nor belongs to the Gordon Heights fire district. However, there are some Gordon Heights residents from outside the fire district, who feel we should continue to financially support this district while they don’t have to.
Please note that this is not about the volunteer firemen. We love our firemen, but the community as a whole just cannot afford to support a district. Because we have 5 fire districts serving 4 townships, the most common sense solution would be for the State to empower the Town or the County to dissolve our fire district based on it’s excessively high tax rate, and merge the remaining Gordon Heights Fire District residents into these surrounding fire districts for protection. Perhaps based on their respective zip code or on the proximity of the fire district.
This would accomplish several positive things:
1. It would give neighboring fire districts additional tax base, possibly lowering their taxes;
2. It would eliminate duplicated and wasteful spending of our hard-earned tax dollars;
3. It would increase the number of volunteers in these districts;
4. It would finally create the tax relief we are desperately seeking and not continue the legacy of this burden unto future generations of home owners in this district.
For the Commission’s review, we have compiled a binder for each of you, which is full of facts and FOILED information. One example of what we learned is that the Gordon Heights Fire District generates an average of only one call per day. These calls are mostly EMS related, and are serviced by salaried technicians. Yet, this tiny “so-called” volunteer fire district requires a stunning budget of $1.5 million dollars a year to operate.
That might not seem like a lot of money compared to other figures we have heard today, but it is to a working class community of 900 families. This is nearly $30,000 of squandered, sacrificed
tax dollars per week, which could be better used to revitalize the community instead.
In closing, I just want to say we are a group of ordinary citizens, who despite our busy, brain drain lives and despite experiencing much adversity, felt we had no choice but to spend countless hours doing the enormous, self-help job of researching the facts, and through the support of RESD bringing to light just how much special district inefficiency can ail us.
The reality is that the Gordon Heights Fire District, generates taxes that have become unreasonable, unsustainable, unjustified and unnecessary. There are people who have, or who will lose their homes to these outrageous, out of control taxes! Therefore, we believe we are the model and candidate for a merger or consolidation. We cannot afford to wait until the fire system as a whole is reformed. We need relief from this tax burden now. It is our hope that through this grass roots effort, laws will be updated to better address our current needs and circumstances, which will benefit many now and it the future; and that no other taxpayers will have to endure the unnecessary emotional and financial suffering that we have.
Thank you Governor Spitzer for having the political will to create this much needed Commission.
We believe it is the first step in the right direction for saving our homes, our community and our quality of life here on Long Island.
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Gina Previte is one of approximately 900 residents served by the Gordon Heights Fire District.