Voters in more than 150 special election districts on Long Island go to the polls Tuesday -- many to elect fire commissioners who collectively control more than $300 million in public spending.
Commissioners in Long Island's roughly 130 independent fire districts set the budgets for their districts, which levy taxes that vary across the Island.
Some fire districts charge an average of less than $200 per year per household, while some charge more than $600 -- and one, Gordon Heights Fire District, charges about $1,500. Many commissioners are running for re-election unopposed, but some districts have hotly contested races.
In Gordon Heights, anti-tax insurgents who gained control of the board last year are trying to expand their 3-2 majority.
The board majority is backing Phillip Gordon, a volunteer firefighter who is trying to oust incumbent Carter Brown.
Residents of the predominantly African-American district, which serves about 900 homes in a 1.7-square-mile area, pay fire taxes that are four times the Long Island average.
"The taxes are still the No. 1 issue," Gordon said, adding that he would focus on "cutting wasteful spending."
Brown, also a volunteer firefighter, blamed the district's high taxes on a lack of commercial properties, which places the tax burden on homeowners. He opposed calls to disband and merge the district with another.
"This community needs a fire district, just like every other community has a fire district," he said, adding the department proved its value when it helped residents clean up after superstorm Sandy.
Other races include candidates who fight fires elsewhere or have no link to the district.
A race in Islip Terrace pits Peter Peluso, former chief of the Islip Terrace department, against Robert Moon, who volunteers for a different fire department.
Peluso, a firefighter for 18 years, was chief from 2008 to 2012 and is making his first run for the board. "I'm running to be fiscally responsible for the taxpayer, as well as provide the chief . . . with the proper equipment and personnel," Peluso, a foreman for the Long Island Rail Road, said.
Moon, a firefighter for 15 years, lives in Islip Terrace but volunteers for the Islip Fire Department. "I just wanted to take a shot at the position and try and lead the department and the community in the right direction," said Moon, a graphic designer making his first run for commissioner.
In the Lido and Point Lookout Fire District, Greg Naham, a real estate consultant with no connection to the district, is running for an open seat against two longtime department members.
Naham said the district has not reached out to residents enough since voters defeated a $7 million bond proposal in July. He is running against Pete Zaccaria, a 61-year department member and former commissioner, and Jeff Birnbaum, a 33-year member and former chief.
Naham said his "management and budgetary experience," and the fact that he's an outside candidate, make him a good voice for residents. Attempts to reach Zaccaria were unsuccessful. Birnbaum stressed his experience with the department. "This isn't a job where you just walk in and say you want to be a commissioner," he said.
Hauppauge's is the only fire district election in the Town of Smithtown in which two candidates are battling for one commissioner seat.
Michael P. Mooney of Hauppauge is running for re-election for his third term against Ray Woods Jr. of Smithtown. Mooney said: "If it's not broken, why try to fix it?"
Woods said he hopes to bring new ideas and more transparency. "I feel in today's age no one knows about fire districts. We're a tax agency," he said.
With Carl MacGowan, Sophia Chang and Lauren R. Harrison