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Fire Commissioners looking hard at budget

Shelter Island Fire Commissioners have had to spend more than $500,000 in the past two years updating its radio communications system. Now they have to make a decision on a maintenance contract.

The Fire District is awaiting a full proposal from Integrated Wireless Technologies (IWT) in Holbrook before making a final decision, but took a step Monday night to eliminate one competitor for the contract.

Motorola has a maintenance contract that would have cost the District more than $300,000 over the life of the five-year contract. IWT is the service company that Motorola uses for its service contract. By opting to go with IWT directly, the cost could be as low as $20,000 a year. The District would have to pay for equipment if anything needed to be replaced. But if something could be fixed, the labor costs would be covered by the contract.

Without a contract, if equipment had a failure, it could take as much as a week before IWT could respond to a service call. With a contract, the District would be guaranteed a response within four hours and likely corrective action within 24 hours.

However, there are options to that contract and depending on which the District chooses, there would be additional costs.

IWT’s Andrew Hintze told the commissioners that the computer on which the new communications system depends has an estimated life of about four years, although some can last longer. But at the five year mark, because of changing technology, it could cost the District an estimated $100,000, Mr. Hintze said.

He promised a full proposal by early next week, listing all options so the commissioners can make a final decision. Commissioner Larry Lechmanski made it clear that given the investment involved in upgrading communications equipment, it’s important to ensure reliability by choosing a reasonable maintenance contract. Mr. Lechmanski has been the point person on the upgrading, monitoring needs based on Southold Police providing dispatching services to the Island.

Another area of expense is money needed to set aside in the equipment capital reserve fund for radios; an expected expense of a new chief’s car; and money set aside for the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) for firefighters, a pension-like program added several years ago to attract and retain volunteer firefighters.

There are some changes to be implemented by New York State, including an increase from $700 to $1,200 as a maximum contribution. Contributions can be extended over a 50-year period, according to Commissioner Andy Reeve. But there are details that need to be finalized before the District proceeds.

Plans are afoot to do some major work at the Heights Firehouse aimed at making it compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and to create room for a new firetruck to be housed there. Commissioners reviewed and accepted final plans for the work Monday night.

As for the truck to be replaced, nostalgia won out, at least for the moment, as commissioners voted unanimously to keep the older truck as a backup and eventually as a vehicle that reflects the history of the days prior to the mid-1990s when the Heights and Center Fire Departments merged.

Decisions on the budget are expected to be finalized at a Sept. 20 budget workshop with a 2022 budget adopted at the Sept. 27 Commissioners monthly meeting.