New York Residents Petition to Dissolve Fire District


Updated: 08-24-2006 09:48:03 AM



BRANDON BAIN
Newsday



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.

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