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Fire Commissioners eye $1 million-plus 2022 budget

Fire Commissioners voted Monday night to submit a $1.004 million 2022 budget proposal to the public for comment at an Oct. 19 hearing with an expectation of adopting the spending plan at its regular meeting the following week.

The projected budget has a $70,086 increase compared to the current spending plan, representing a 7.5% increase.

What that means in terms of taxes is an owner of property assessed at a median value of $840,000 on the Island would pay $14.83 more in 2022 than in 2021. That would bring the overall annual tax bite from $216.13 this year to $230.97 next year.

An owner of a property assessed at $1.5 million would see a $26.49 increase in taxes, compared with 2021. That would bring the overall tax in 2022 to $412.44 as compared to $385.95 this year.

Because the increase is above the state-imposed 2% tax cap, the Fire Commissioners had to vote to go above 2%, and did so unanimously.

The tax base increased by 0.63% from $3.632 million this year to $3.654 million for 2022.

The spending increase results largely from approximately $500,000 spent to upgrade the Fire Department’s radio communications system, Fire Commissioner Chairman Larry Lechmanski said. It’s something the commissioners knew was coming but resulted in less than what had earlier been calculated, he said.

The equipment change was needed to conform with dispatching services rendered by Southold Police with Suffolk County Police serving as backup dispatchers.

“I’m proud of this budget,” Commissioner Lechmanski said. He’s been the point person credited with monitoring what has been happening with upgrades throughout the area. Based on his understanding of recommendations that appeared to give direction to what equipment would be needed, he asked his fellow commissioners not to jump to buy radio equipment that ultimately would not have served the district’s needs.

He noted Monday night that the district benefited this year from a one-time $150,000 payment from Elite Towers, the company that installed a new tower at the Cobbetts Lane Firehouse. But that revenue won’t be repeated. What the district can expect is a 50-50 split with Elite Towers every year for each company that puts an antenna on that tower. It gets $18,000 per year for the Verizon antenna and an anticipated similar amount from an AT&T antenna expected to be installed. Other revenue will depend on what antennae seek tower space in the future.

The public hearing on the budget is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 6:30 p.m.

Unless there is input from the public that changes any of the numbers to be advertised in advance of that hearing, the proposed budget will be adopted On Oct. 25 by the Fire Commissioners.

In other Fire District news: Work contemplated on the Heights Firehouse has hit a snag that fire district commissioners hope to rectify with Senior Building Inspector Chris Tehan.

In an effort to move the project along, the Building Department has indicated there could be a need for a setback variance, but that isn’t the problem.

Instead, it’s a question of the firehouse being identified as an emergency building that would require different design criteria, Commissioner Keith Clark told his colleagues at Monday night’s meeting at the Center Firehouse.

“This kind of throws a monkey wrench in it,” he said.

The building houses vehicles and equipment, but is not used as an emergency shelter for the public, Commission Chairman Larry Lechmanski said. In an emergency on the Island, it may provide assistance to Fire Department members and their families, but not the general public, he said. He believes it should not be required to meet standards set for a shelter. The only two buildings on the Island designated as emergency shelters are the school and the senior center.

Mr. Clark said he will request a meeting with Mr. Tehan to try to smooth out the issue.

The need to get the project moving is important because a newly purchased truck is to be housed there and it won’t fit in the structure as it currently exists.

The building is also important to the neighborhood that uses space there for community functions.