Editorial: Applaud the Fire District budget

Unlike the school and library budgets that require voter approval, the Shelter Island Fire District budget is created by and given final approval by the Board of Fire Commissioners.

But that doesn’t mean the public lacks the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget and request changes. The reality is few people and sometimes none attend the public hearing on the annual budget proposals. Yet it doesn’t stop some from complaining about the spending plan when they made no effort to tell Fire Commissioners what they would like changed in the proposal at a time when their thoughts might have an impact on the final budget.

This year’s public hearing on the budget hearing occurs at the Center Firehouse at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. The Fire District budget will be finalized by the Commissioners at their Oct. 25 meeting.

For the first time in recent memory, this year’s budget proposal of $1.004 million pierces the state imposed 2% tax cap, hiking proposed spending by $70,086 for a 7.5% increase.

At first glance, it might seem easy to complain, but we applaud the Board of Commissioners for the hard work that goes into drafting the proposal and a hike that was envisioned for several years because of the requirement that radio equipment be upgraded to smooth communications between Southold Police who provide dispatching services to the Fire Department, as well as the need for all East End fire departments to receive calls for mutual aid when major blazes happen.

We especially applaud Fire Commission Chairman Larry Lechmanski who diligently followed talks among dispatchers and other fire departments through the past several years to determine what would best serve the Island.

A less dedicated and knowledgeable person might have advised purchases throughout those years that not only would have been costly, but would ultimately have proven to be inadequate. He continually kept his fellow Commissioners informed and finally, this year, had to recommend spending of about $1.5 million be appropriated for new radio equipment.

The 2022 budget reflects that necessary increase.

The increased budget total will cost the owner of property assessed at the median value of $840,000 an additional $14.83 next year, raising the total in fire taxes to $230.97. For owners of properties assessed at $1.5 million, the extra tax bite will be $26.49, raising the total tax cost for fire services to $412.44.

That’s not a great deal of money for the protection the all-volunteer firefighters give Islanders and far less than it would cost to employ a full-time paid fire department.