Resolution validates Smithtown Fire District 'oversight'

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The Suffolk County Legislature has passed a resolution to "legalize and validate" acts of the Smithtown Fire District after officials failed to hold a public referendum on a $2.8 million construction project for a new firehouse, as required by state law.

The district failed to hold and advertise a referendum in October 2012 when its fire commissioners authorized the expenditure from the capital reserve fund. Tom Buffa, a Smithtown fire commissioner, said the error was a simple oversight. After recently becoming aware of it, fire officials wanted to legally correct the omission, he added.

"You had to do a public referendum to allocate the money from the reserve fund to be used to reconstruct the new station," Buffa said.

The resolution was passed late Tuesday. Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) introduced the measure last week. He said the district had adhered to all protocols on building design, advertising requests for proposals seeking bids and paying prevailing wages for the construction of the new firehouse on Plymouth Boulevard, which was completed last October.

Notice of the legislature meetings was advertised, but Kennedy said the only person who shared public comment on the resolution was Larry Kenny, an attorney for the fire district.

"The key and critical element to see here is that the expenditures associated with the construction of the substation occurred from a capital reserve that had been established by the fire district, and no borrowing was undertaken for this project," Kennedy said.

"There was no interest expense that the residents of the district wound up bearing in order to go ahead and complete this project," he said.

The project included the demolition of a fire station that was originally constructed in 1960, Buffa said. He said it was replaced because it didn't conform to required standards by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Association.

"You have to put an exhaust system in to take the smoke out of the building," he said. "There are so many changes now."

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The new station also added a bay for a third fire truck to better protect additional residents who moved into the surrounding area, Buffa said.

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