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10/14/14 8:00am

FIRE-DEPARTMENT

Shelter Island Fire Commissioners will hold a public hearing tonight, Tuesday, October 14, at 7 p.m. at the Center Firehouse to outline their plans for the 2015 budget. This is an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the proposed $863,702 budget that stays within the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap.

It represents a $29,662 difference in what was allocated for the current year.

The amount to be raised from real estate taxes is $818,804 with the balance coming from interest and other income.

To support the current year’s budget, the district had to raise $795,492 in real estate taxes.

Taxpayers will see a decrease in their taxes to support the Shelter Island Fire District in 2015 despite a proposed 2.93 percent increase in spending. That results from a wider tax base.

The increase doesn’t pierce the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap because the district spending for the current year was less than 2 percent, Treasurer Amber Williams said.

An owner of property valued at $640,000 would pay $174.49 in 2015 as compared with $175.36 paid to support the 2014 budget. An owner of property valued at $1 million would pay $272.64 in 2015 as compared with the current $274 bill.

Small increases in spending are in the areas of equipment, insurance, repairs and maintenance and fuel oil. Some of the increases are offset by decreased spending, including a small savings in wages resulting from combining the treasurer’s and secretary’s jobs into a single job held by Ms. Williams. She has long been the district’s treasurer, but took over the secretary’s responsibilities last year upon the retirement of former secretary Jackie Tuttle.

Commissioners expect to adopt the budget at their regular October 27 meeting and will, if necessary, make any changes to the plan based on public comments.
Historically, there have been no changes between the proposed and final budgets.

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11/28/12 8:00am

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Fire Commissoner Larry Lechmanski crossed swords with Fire Department Secretary Arthur Bloom at Monday’s monthly fire commissoner’s meeting.

Simmering tensions between Shelter Island Fire Commissioners and some department members boiled over at the commissioners meeting Monday night.

The dispute, which produced angry exchanges, is over work that needs to be done at the Shelter Island Heights Firehouse. Commissioners wanted to move forward, accepting one of three bids that ranged from $12,000 to more than $24,000 on the project. But department secretary Arthur Bloom challenged them to get specifications drawn to assure all bidders are on the same page.

The issue developed after commissioners determined the building has shifted as it’s settled, causing strains in the structure. Initially, commissioners declared the project an emergency. But board attorney Helen Rosenblum advised them they were overstepping the definition of what constitutes a true emergency. She advised commission chairman Richard Surozenski to seek three bids on the project.

Mr. Surozenski returned with bids from Chris Chobor, Arthur C. Luecker and Andrew Clark, who, the board agreed, are all local contractors with solid reputations. Mr. Clark is the brother of Fire Commissioner Keith Clark, who said he would recuse himself from the discussion.

But before the commissioners could act on the bids, Mr. Bloom asked for the project specifications on which the bids were based. A silence fell over the room and finally Mr. Surozenski said there had been no specifications. All three bidders had visited the site and each outlined his own plans for dealing with the project, the commission chairman said.

It sounds like the contractors were bidding on three different jobs, Mr. Bloom said, suggesting the commission get an engineer to draft specifications and have the work re-bid. That clearly didn’t sit well with the commissioners. Mr. Bloom told them he thought they were making the discussion a personal battle with him.

Then First Assistant Fire Chief Will Anderson chimed in saying he had once been the low bidder on a town plumbing and heating job and had the Town Board not taken time to explore discrepancies between his bid and others, either he or the town could have been burned by the contract. Ultimately, he won that bid, but thanks to the clarifications, the Town Board got the project it wanted at the price Mr. Anderson was able to bid without suffering a loss.

“Let it fall down,” Commissioner Larry Lechmanski said about the building, clearly angry at the delay that resulted when Mr. Surozenski bowed to those who wanted to delay the project until the board could assure that bids were based on clear specifications.

“Do you think it’s going to fall down?” Mr. Anderson shot back.

“No,” Mr. Lechmanski responded.

Mr. Surozenski agreed to table the decision until December and speak to newly appointed part-time town engineer John C. Cronin about the possibility of developing specifications for the job that could then be clarified for the three bidders or possibly put out to bid again.

Following the meeting, both sides were grumbling — commissioners who thought their efforts to get the project done were being unfairly delayed and fire department members asserting the board was pushing through decisions with too little transparency.

Mr. Lechmanski said he was frustrated by the delay. Mr. Bloom said he resents the way commissioners push through decisions. But he said he’s not interested in trying to join the Board of Commissioners where there are two open seats and only two incumbents seeking re-election in December.

“I’m having fun being on the outside,” he said.

10/23/12 11:50am

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Police Chief James Read, left, played digital recordings of Southold dispatch calls for members of the Board of Fire Commissioners Monday including, from center, Chairman Richard Surozenski, Larry Lechmanski and Andy Steinmueller.

After listening Monday night to a digital recording of a Shelter Island woman’s call to Town Police last month reporting she’d had a small fire on a stove top, Shelter Island’s fire commissioners said they were satisfied that the Southold Town Police dispatcher who took the call handled it properly.

The commissioners last month expressed concern that the full Fire Department should have been called out immediately. The caller  told the dispatcher she’d had a stove-top fire because she’d left a burner on while showering. She said the fire was out and wanted someone to come by to check on it — but not the whole Fire Department because there was no emergency.

A police officer immediately checked at the house after telling the dispatcher to alert the Fire Department to send one truck.

Also on Monday night, the commissioners adopted without changes their proposed 2013 budget, which calls for $831,286 in expenditures, up 2.4 percent from this year’s figure of $811,578 and requiring $792,976 to be raised through property taxes, up $18,080 or 2.2 percent from 2012. Because of a rollover credit from 2012, the adjusted tax falls below the state-mandated annual tax-hike cap of 2 percent.

For further details, read the October 25 Shelter Island Reporter E-paper

10/20/11 1:00pm

The Shelter Island Fire Department presented its 2012 budget of $811,578, an increase of $11,108 or 1.4 percent over the current year, at the public hearing on Tuesday, October 18 at the Center Fire House. No one spoke against the proposal at the sparsely attended hearing.

The budget is not subject to a public vote. The fire commissioners will vote on the budget on Monday, October 24 at their regular meeting.

The proposed budget would increase the amount to be raised by property tax to $774,723, a slight rise of $13,513 or 1.8 percent. Property taxes would cover 95.6 percent of the fire district’s operating expenses in 2012 compared to 95 percent in 2011, with the balance of operating revenues to be made up by the contract with Dering Harbor ($32,355) and interest income ($4,500.)

According to District Treasurer Amber Williams, the 2012 budget will create a 1-percent increase on the fire district line on the tax bills of Shelter Island property owners. As she explained it, the owner of a home that is assessed at the median value of $640,000 would pay $167.16 in fire department taxes in 2012, up slightly from $165.44 in 2011. On million-dollar properties, taxes would be $261.19 compared $258.44 this year.

Ms. Williams said in an email message that the minimal budget increase was a result of “careful planning and luck.”

The cost of the voter-approved Longevity of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) increased by 16.6 percent but “was offset by fewer budgeted repairs on vehicles. In 2011, we had some overdue repairs because we had the room in the budget,” she wrote. “In 2012, we can return closer to 2010 levels. By scheduling costs and planning ahead, the commissioners hope to avoid a future budget spike due to deferred maintenance and repairs. The same goes for capital improvements.”

Commissioner Larry Lechmanski commented at the hearing, “We have to give the chiefs credit for being proactive” about staying on top of replacements and maintenance. He also credited them for “getting organized about what the firemen needed. And for coming to us with a list of specifics.” He said the department and commissioners had gone “back and forth” on some items and added, “This is not the right time” to present a budget with a big increase.

Year-to-year comparisons of the budget show a large decrease in repairs and maintenance (down $15,000), a slight drop ($2,400) in overall insurance costs and training/uniforms ($3,500) for 2012 and a savings in debt service of $5,500. The largest budgeted increase is in the equipment capital reserve fund, which is up $7,500.

According to Ms. Williams’ calculations, 61 percent of the district budget is non-discretionary, which includes insurance costs; LOSAP; salaries for the district secretary, treasurer and custodian; annual repairs to the fire houses, maintenance and fuel for trucks and buildings; debt service on the newest truck purchased in 2009; training and uniforms; physical exams for firefighters; and annual audit and payroll costs.

Discretionary costs include upgrades to equipment, purchases from the capital reserve fund ($302,000) and the cost of the annual inspection dinner ($13,000).