Editorial: Take a break from shopping and vote

Lakeland Fire Department volunteers respond to downed power Lakeland Fire Department volunteers respond to downed power lines that set a vehicle on fire on Port Avenue off Johnson Avenue in Ronkonkoma. (Nov. 29, 2011) Photo Credit: Robert Garofalo

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Another Election Day is upon us, one that in this busy season flies under the public's radar every year. Voters who live in 158 special districts across Long Island go to the polls Tuesday to elect the commissioners who run the smallest of our local governments. The commissioners put together budgets that spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars annually. Three-quarters of these districts are independent fire districts whose budgets alone total more than $320 million.

That's reason enough to get involved and cast a vote.

The inconvenient and inconspicuous date came about in a very public way. A Newsday series in 2005 revealed excessive and unaccountable spending by some local fire districts, which up to then operated largely without supervision. That prompted state legislation mandating more transparency, including one common date for all district elections -- the second Tuesday in December. The legislation has helped and many districts have improved operations. But the public still needs to play watchdog. A recent state comptroller's audit of the Lakeland fire district, for example, found district officials spent more than $13,000 at a 2012 conference in Las Vegas but did not register for the conference or attend any of its training/learning sessions. Lakeland's commissioners also racked up more than $15,000 in undocumented expenses during five conferences. Alas, the lone commissioner up for re-election Tuesday -- chairman John DiFilippo -- is running unopposed. Typically, about two-thirds of fire districts have uncontested elections.

It's too late to become a candidate in your district this time around but it's not too late to get involved. Check out the Long Island Index's new online search tool to learn which fire, water, sanitation or park district you live in. Then find out who's running, take a break from shopping, and vote.

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