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Gordon Heights Fire District to wait longer for report

A much-awaited report that will help determine the future of the Gordon Heights Fire District has been delayed, less than two weeks before a critical election in the most-taxed fire district on Long Island.

Brookhaven officials have promised a hearing on whether to dissolve the 900-home fire district, which charges an average tax bill of more than $1,300 per household. But officials have also said the hearing will not happen until the Town Board receives a report from an Oregon firm hired to study the costs of eliminating the district.

Officials had said they hoped to receive the report by Dec. 1. But it now appears the study will not be submitted until mid- to late-December, a town spokesman said.

The consultant, Emergency Services Consulting International of Wilsonville, Ore., which is being paid $91,000 to produce the report, was delayed by the difficulty of assembling data from several different fire districts, said Phil Kouwe, the company's senior vice president.

Suffolk County's lack of centralized fire district records made it "difficult to do any performance measurement," he said.

The delay comes as the district is preparing for its Dec. 14 fire commissioner elections. The fire commission is made up of three commissioners who support keeping the district open and two who back the idea of consolidating with a neighboring district.

Commissioner Maryanne Owens, who has said residents could save money if the district consolidated, is defending her seat on the board. She faces former commissioner Chesley Ruffin, who supports keeping the district.

Owens said the consultant's report is important so residents can see "this is what the options are and this is what they would cost."

She added: "That's where the facts will actually come in, rather than people getting so emotional."

Some residents believe the district should remain because it was Suffolk's first all-black force, founded in the 1940s. Others, such as Commissioner James Kelly, who has supported keeping the district, say it's "an integral part of the community."

Kelly added that he is eager to see the consultant's report.

A town spokesman said Brookhaven officials will likely not comment on the report until it is received. Supervisor Mark Lesko said in October 2009 that the town would hold a hearing on dissolving the district after residents submitted a petition calling for one.

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