Fire District Dissolution Hits Impasse As Town Calls For Study
With all the studying we do here on Long Island, one would think we'd raise a smarter crop of elected officials, let alone a more astute electorate.
Gee whiz. How bright a bulb do you have to be to know that a fire district encompassing less than a square mile, costing residents upwards of $1400 per year in property tax per household, should be dissolved, its services consolidated with neighboring districts?
Apparently, they're not all that plugged in in the Town of Brookhaven, where residents of Gordon Heights have Petitioned to dissolve the local fire district -- only to be rebuffed, time and time again, by Town officials.
Reason demands that this special taxing district, serving only 800 homes, be dissolved. Residents of the district, almost to a person (save a fire commissioner, or three) want it to be dissolved. Whatever happened to government efficiency, let alone a town government that is representative of the people's will? [Certainly, we, in the Town of Hempstead, wouldn't know!]
The Town of Brookhaven has commissioned a study to assess the Gordon Heights issue -- a draft (all 195 pages of it) was prepared for "public discussion" by Cameron Engineering, in association (or so the report says) with Vision Long Island (whose side are you guys on, anyway).
The Cameron Report (too verbose to republish here) states, in Executive Summary:
High fire district taxes are the basis for a petition filed with the Town to dissolve the GHFD. There are several responses available to the Town and the District: 1) jurisdictional or operational consolidation of the GHFD into an adjacent district, 2) creation of a Fire Protection District by the Town, 3) reconfiguration of GHFD and adjacent district boundaries, and 4) reduction of GHFD expenses.
Elimination of the GHFD would likely lower taxes, but would also reduce the services residents have come to expect and dissolve an important community institution. Three of the four adjacent districts do not support GHFD dissolution and consolidation and would not likely agree to incorporate it into their district. The Yaphank Fire District has issued no opinion. Creation of a Fire Protection District would require the Town to issue a Request for Proposals. Fire districts and independent fire and EMS services could respond. However, given the position of then surrounding districts, they are unlikely to respond to such an RFP. Contracting with a more distant service provider would increase response times. The Town board would assume the role of fire commissioners under this scenario.
So, we have to ask, no beg, surrounding fire districts to incorporate Gordon Heights into the districts they serve. Oh pretty please, with sugar on top! These are governmental entities, paid for by the taxpayers. Give us a break!
Why not dissolve each and every one of these special taxing districts, consolidating the fire service under a single jurisdiction? [Somehow it works for NYC, where 8 million residents, and far more than 800 homes, are protected by New York's bravest through one fire department.]
The Executive Summary of the Cameron Report concludes:
The residents of Gordon Heights, the Fire District, and the Town have limited options to address the high taxes associated with fire protection and emergency services. Redistricting may be the most equitable overall, but may be difficult to implement. Three of the four adjoining districts have rejected dissolution and consolidation. The District can lower taxes to a degree by reductions in staffing and equipment. Further savings can accrue through reductions in services.
These savings come with an associated decrease in level of care or an increase in risk tolerance by the community.
"Too difficult to impement?" So we only do what's easy, right? No other district wants to provide the services? Why do we leave them with the choice?
Towns, and government entities, in general, favor studies. Indeed, they love studies. Not for the sake of input or insight, but rather, because studies buy them time. Time to delay. Time to stall. Time to get past the next election. Time for people to forget or move on to sundry other concerns. Time to do nothing.
In Gordon Heights, it's not only the progressives who seek to dismantle the special district fiefdoms. No, the cause has been embraced from both left and right, groups such as the Conservative Society for Action -- comprised of Tea Party activists and Glenn Beck 912ers -- joining the call for dissolution. Strange bedfellows, indeed. And yet, it speaks volumes for the cause of dissolution of wasteful, unnecessary, costly layers of government, the Gordon Heights Fire District chief among them.
There are the few who, laying taxes and logic aside, argue that the Gordon Heights Fire District, which is historically Black, should be preserved, as some kind of ode to Black heritage.
As reported in the North Shore Sun, "Members of the fire department and its board of fire commissioners say they're concerned about the potential for changes negatively impacting emergency services, while undermining the historic significance of the volunteer department -- the area's only all-black fire department, which was established more than 60 years ago."
Absurd. The issue here is not Black, but black and white. It's taxes. It's the propriety of scale. It's government doing the right thing by and for the people it is supposed to serve.
For many years, under decades of one-party rule, the Town of Brookhaven held the unbecoming moniker of Crookhaven. Town Supervisor Mark Lesko was elected to office, in part, to change the town's image and to usher in a new day -- one of integrity, democracy, and service to community above self interest.
Mr. Lesko, and members of the Brookhaven Town Board, you have before you the opportunity, at long last, to return Brookhaven to the good people of the town.
It all starts in Gordon Heights, which is precisely where the unseemly reign of the local fire district as taxus ad nauseus must end.
It is time to dissolve the Gordon Heights fire district, without further study or untoward delay, consolidating services with neighboring departments, whether they like it, or not.
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For a complete copy of the Cameron report, e-mail The Community Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Islanders concerned about special district taxes are encouraged to contact the Town of Brookhaven Supervisor and Board members to express their opinions on the proposed Gordon Heights dissolution.