Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going To New Heights To Dissolve A Special District

In Legislation, Community Effort To Extinguish Fire District Gains New Momentum

We've blogged previously about the plight of Gordon Heights, that tiny hamelt in Suffolk County that reluctantly boasts the highest property taxes paid to a fire district in the State of New York -- averaging some $1400 per year.

The battle continues, with residents' second Petition to dissolve (the first being denied on techinal grounds) stymied before the Town of Brookhaven.

Yeah, its a process -- town code for inexorable delay to the detriment of the taxpayers.

With passage of legislation that would permit residents to dissolve such special districts by referendum, Gordon Heights may be closer to closing the doors to that firehouse -- the one that serves all of 900 families in a 2 square mile radius -- rather than further.

Of course, even if Governor Paterson should sign the measure, as is anticipated, the law would not take effect for 270.

Whatever happened to "effective immediately?"

Yeah, we know. Its a process!

We at The Community Alliance join in support of the residents of Gordon Heights in their endeavor to dismantle an unnecessary and all too costly special district.

The Town of Brookhaven should consider and take action on the pending petition, lest residents have to endure yet another outrageous tax bill to pay for a special district that serves only its own good, and not that of the community.
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From Newsday:

Gordon Heights residents work to dissolve fire district

Gordon Heights residents have braved bad weather, fielded late-night phone calls and even dodged an angry pit bull in their effort to collect enough signatures to dissolve their high-tax fire district. But their most daunting hurdles may lie ahead.

It took six months to collect the signatures, which they submitted to Brookhaven Town Dec. 31.

To date, they have not received a response from the town as to whether they have enough signatures, and any substantive action is likely to be months away. If the town assessor certifies the signatures as valid, the town would then conduct a feasibility study, hold hearings and then submit the issue to a town board vote, officials said.

"It's a lengthy process," said Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko. "It's very complicated; and in many respects, we're in uncharted territory because it's a first for a fire district in New York State."

A bill recently passed by the state Legislature seeks to simplify the process of dissolving special taxing districts and includes built-in deadlines to keep the process on track. If the governor signs it into law, it will not take effect for another 270 days, or about nine months, and would not affect any pending petition efforts. For Gordon Heights, where residents of the working-class community pay the highest fire taxes in the state, with an average of $1,300 to $1,500 per household, little is likely to change anytime soon.

"We can't force the issue because there's no deadline [under current law]," said Rosalie Hanson, who has twice spearheaded petition drives to abolish the fire district. "They could sit on that petition until we all drop dead."

Beyond the hurdles in current law, there is opposition within the fire district. Officials there have argued that their commitment to community service and place in history as the first all-black force in Suffolk are reasons to preserve the district. They've hired Frederick Brewington, a high-profile attorney from Hempstead, as special counsel to help them fight any efforts to dissolve them.

In an interview, Brewington declined to discuss specifics of any strategy, saying only, "We're studying the legal issues very carefully."

Residents who want to dissolve the district, for their part, have hired former Suffolk Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino to help them. He said moving the petition process forward would benefit everyone.

"It's in everybody's interest to hold a public hearing and have a vote so that both sides can make their case on the merits and have a final decision," he said, though he added, "But there's no guarantee."

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

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