10/29/13 3:00pm

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Elections to the Shelter Island Board of Fire Commissioners will take place December 10.

Andy Steinmuller, who is currently chairman of the Shelter Island Board of Fire Commissioners, announced Monday night he will seek another five-year term as a commissioner. But he won’t be running unopposed as he did in 2008.

John Beresky, 40, who made a bid for a seat last year with a write-in campaign, said Tuesday morning he is “definitely running” this year and will file the paper work necessary to put his name on the ballot. Mr. Beresky is also a New York City firefighter in his second year as a member of the Shelter Island Fire Department.

Last year’s election results were muddied by charges that 35 votes that would have gone to Mr. Beresky were voided because people wrote his name in the wrong place on the paper ballot. The result was 95 votes for incumbent Andy Reeve and 70 votes for incumbent Richard Surozenski.

Mr. Beresky was credited with 35 votes. As was the case last year, Mr. Beresky said his candidacy is based on ensuring that Shelter Island firefighters are adhering to rules critical to their safety.

Mr. Steinmuller has 60 years as a firefighter, the first 20 with the Bethpage Fire Department before he and his family began vacationing on Shelter Island 40 years ago. He is completing his 15th year as a commissioner.

The election takes place on Tuesday, December 10, and candidates have until 20 days prior to the election to file their intent to seek a commissioner’s seat.

All registered voters who have residency here for at least 30 days prior to the election are eligible to cast ballots.

Fire Commissioners formally approved their 2014 budget Monday night that calls for total appropriations of $834, of which $795,470 is to be raised from taxes. Taxpayers will see a drop in their bills in 2014, according to District Treasurer Amber Williams. Those whose properties are assessed at $640,000 will see a 99 cent cut in that tax bill that has been $176.32. Those whose properties are assessed at $1 million will see a $1.50 drop in their tax bill bringing that bill to $273.95.

With Jackie Tuttle’s retirement as secretary of the fire district after 25 years, commissioners are interviewing candidates to replace her, Mr. Steinmuller said. They hope to name a replacement by the end of November who could work with Ms. Tuthill during December to provide a smooth transition, Mr. Steinmuller said.

The job is being expanded to include some record keeping that goes beyond providing minutes of commissioners’ meetings and handling correspondence.

Ms. Tuttle, who said she first accepted the job not knowing it was a paid position, earned $8,400 this year. Her successor will be earning $8,600.

09/09/13 1:00pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Looking over new procedures are Shelter Island Fire Chief John D’Amato (front) and Fire District Commission Chairman Andy Steinmuller.

Because of perceived, and sometimes real, friction between the fire department and the fire commissioners, Chief John D’Amato and Fire Commission Chairman Andy Steinmuller met with the Reporter last week to clear up some misconceptions.

You know when a fire alarm sounds on Shelter Island, those men and women who respond are your volunteer firefighters. But who are the others you read about who sometimes seem at odds with the fire department ­— fire commissioners — who may or may not be firefighters? They seem to have a lot to say about how the department functions, but who gives them that right?

You do.

That is, you do if you vote in fire district elections typically held in December.

What Chief D’Amato and Chairman Andy Steinmuller want you to know is there might be differences of opinion at times, but they’re both on the same side.

“It’s not an adversarial relationship,” Chief D’Amato said. But there is “push-pull” between the two because it’s up to the department’s three chiefs to request money for equipment and up to the commissioners to decide what the district can afford.

Where does the money come from? Taxpayers, said Mr. Steinmuller, explaining that commissioners adopt an annual budget, a process currently under way for 2014. The district commissioners are obligated to track how money is being used and when it can be moved from one account to another.

What does it cost the taxpayer annually? Surprisingly little, according to District Treasurer Amber Williams. If your house is assessed at $640,000, you’re paying $176 for fire fighting services.

“We’re controlled by the state,” Mr. Steinmuller said about the procedures the commissioners must meet in budgeting. “And every year, they come up with a new requirement.”

It’s similar to how school districts must comply with state and federal mandates affecting curriculum and procedures, but often aren’t given enough money to cover the costs of such compliance, Mr. Steinmuller said. Fire District commissioners must figure out how to juggle the tax money they receive to ensure they’re complying with mandates pertaining to training and equipment, among other expenses.

If the chiefs sometimes seem frustrated in their efforts to get equipment they believe is vital to their operations, it’s not because the commissioners fail to understand the need. It’s because they simply don’t have the funds, Mr. Steinmuller said.

One cause of friction concerns the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When OSHA laid down requirements to protect firefighters, all agreed compliance was important. But the cost of reviewing the department’s procedures and equipment and training members in those procedures could cost $10,000 or more. When commissioners heard there might be someone local who could do the job for $500, they naturally jumped at the lower figure, but have since had problems slotting in the consultant to do the job by the December 31 deadline.

Chiefs were cynical from the start that the job could be done for so little money. Now all parties are scrambling to find a way to bring the department into compliance.

That’s what prompted Chief D’Amato to complain there’s not a written contract with the person who was to do OSHA training and evaluation. The days of handshake contracts are over, the chief said. By state law, when a bid is awarded, a written agreement must establish start and finish dates for each project and stipulate other elements that must be met by the winning contractor. It’s that written contract that protects both the district and the contractor’s interests, Chief D’Amato said.

Mr. Steinmuller agreed that going forward, such contracts would be put in place.

Another question is money the department raises from events like its Chicken Barbecue and Country Fair. Some of that may go to offsetting the costs of equipment, typically paid for by the commissioners with tax money. But mainly the money from events goes back to the community through scholarships, a program to offset the costs of heating oil, and signs needed to ensure firefighters can find houses when an alarm sounds.

A tiny amount is spent to provide some meals for firefighters. By law, the district can provide only water for firefighters on the job “so we don’t die of thirst,” Chief D’Amato said. But if it’s a lengthy fire, the district can’t pay for food, so that comes out of department money — a small price to pay for the volunteers, the chief said.

“We’re not a rich district here,” Mr. Steinmuller said. With the 2 percent cap on tax increases imposed by New York State, it’s hard to cover increasing expenses, he added.

“Everybody in that room is a taxpayer,” Chief D’Amato said, meaning everyone wants to keep spending in check.

Both the fire district and fire department have their own sets of policies. But it’s up to the commissioners to create the over-arching policies that inform how both function.

“We’re constantly trying to update and stay with the current knowledge,” Chief D’Amato said about requests he and the other chiefs make to the district commissioners. “Fire service, like the rest of the world, is changing and there’s always a tug and pull between the old guard and new procedures,” he said.

“John has opened up our eyes a lot of times on certain things,” Mr. Steinmuller said.