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Shelter Island Fire Commissioners meeting report

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Commissioner Larry Lechmanski reads a release on new standards that will no longer require all firefighter gear more than 10 years old to be discarded.

Commissioner Larry Lechmanski reads a release on new standards that will no longer require all firefighter gear more than 10 years old to be discarded.

While specific numbers haven’t been released, the Shelter Island Fire District is looking at a 2015 budget that would keep within the state-imposed tax cap.

But because the district’s current budget fell below the 2 percent cap, it’s possible that the new budget, if it were to exceed a 2 percent increase, would still be considered within the cap.

Fire District Treasurer Amber Williams who told commissioners Monday she expects to know within two weeks what the district’s cap will be for the 2015 budget. Ms. Williams was also looking to secure more accurate figures for some lines in the budget. A meeting on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday,

September 16 at 6 p.m. The budget then will be outlined at a 7 p.m. public hearing on October 14 and then the commissioners will have an opportunity to make any changes necessary before adopting it on October 27.

Selling the cells
Another company has jumped into the ring seeking to erect a cell phone tower at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane. Diamond Cell Towers, whose nearest office is in New Jersey, has offered the district an initial payment of $120,000, or $20,000 more than Elite Towers of Deer Park has offered.

Commissioners will go to Elite to see if the company can match Diamond’s offer. At the same time, Commission Chairman Keith Clark said he would prefer to work with a Long Island company.

The commissioners had been expected to sign a preliminary agreement with Elite, but had to wait until it dealt with a caveat contained in the proposed agreement, calling for a gag order on disclosing terms, something a public fire department couldn’t legally do.

Elite has now agreed to rescind that non-disclosure provision.

As for Highlander Consultants of East Islip, the company that initially launched the discussion about a cell tower on fire department property in January, they have offered only a 40 percent cut of profits to the district after the initial payment. The other two companies are offering a 50-50 split, Mr. Clark said.

Island firefighters who have been collecting pension money under the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) have a problem on their hands. Arthur Bloom told the commissioners Monday night he received a letter informing him that the company handling the department’s LOSAP program erred in reporting that money to the Internal Revenue Service. As a result, those receiving LOSAP funds would not only owe money to the IRS, but could be hit with penalties.

Commissioner Richard Surozenski said he also got an IRS notice. Mr. Bloom said he had already taken steps to correct his filing for 2013, but Mr. Surozenski hadn’t yet taken action.

Any others in the LOSAP program who may be affected by the under reporting of Hometown Insurance Company of Long Island would be responsible for payment of taxes on the unreported money, but Mr. Bloom said Hometown should have to pick up the tab for any penalties that might be imposed.

The under-reporting for 2013 would also affect New York State taxes, although that wouldn’t be the case for future years since a change in the law exempts such payments going forward, according to Commissioner Larry Lechmanski.

Learning the ropes
Chief Will Anderson will be exploring ways for the district to provide rope training required of firefighters. The original plan called for using another district’s facilities, but liability issues forced a decision not to allow outside departments to use their facilities, Mr. Lechmanski said.

The chief is suggesting OSHA-approved scaffolding that could be erected and removed as needed. He agreed to look into the scaffolding. By law, firefighters are required to have training in using special ropes to escape burning buildings of at least two stories.

A law change will no longer require that firefighters’ gear be replaced every 10 years. Gear must be safe and both the chief and Mr. Lechmanski agreed they would never fail to provide proper gear for the men.

“We never have and we never will,” Mr. Lechmanski said. But the 10-year limit on use of gear was impractical, he said. For some, gear can last longer and it was wrong to require that it be scrapped after a decade.