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Gordon Heights homeowners face 7.5% fire district tax hike

Gordon Heights Fire Commissioner Chesley Ruffin discusses issues

Gordon Heights Fire Commissioner Chesley Ruffin discusses issues facing the fire district on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Homeowners in Gordon Heights, who already pay among the highest fire district tax bills on Long Island, are facing a 7.5 percent increase in those taxes this year, a fire official said.

Alex Hanson, chairman of the Gordon Heights Board of Fire Commissioners, said the $1.1 million budget that takes effect this week includes $65,000 in new spending, including increases in contributions to the state pension fund and purchases of new equipment.

The increases, which he said are “unavoidable,” will cause the fire district portion of tax bills to rise to $57 per $100 of assessed home value, from the current $53, Hanson said.

He said Gordon Heights residents pay four times as much in taxes as neighboring districts. “The cost of everything is going up,” he said. “You can’t cut anymore.”

The hefty tax hike is the latest challenge for the small, predominantly African-American community in Brookhaven Town, which has debated whether to dissolve the fire district.

Supporters say dissolving the district would cut costs and contain taxes, while opponents say it would result in longer emergency response times. The district serves about 900 homes in a 1.7-square-mile community with little commercial development.

Commissioner Chesley Ruffin said a 2008 petition to dissolve the district remains active. Hanson and Ruffin said efforts to close the district have reached a standstill because neighboring districts have not agreed to consider absorbing Gordon Heights if it dissolved.

Hanson and other commissioners who back changes to the district, including possible dissolution, hold a 3-2 majority on the board. But Ruffin and Commissioner Avery Dean, both of whom oppose dissolution, said pro-district sentiment seems to be spreading. Dean, who was re-elected to his third five-year term last month, said he believed he won because he centered his campaign on keeping the district.

Ruffin blamed the tax hike on fiscal mismanagement, including overpayments to PSEG Long Island and underpayments to vendors. He cited a recent audit that found lax financial oversight in 2015.

“It’s going to be an increase in taxes, and it’s still not going to be enough to sustain what we need,” he said.

Ruffin and Avery said they voted against the budget in November. They said they plan to vote against Hanson’s reappointment as chairman during a board meeting Wednesday night.

Hanson said he expects to be re-elected as chairman. He said board members have done their best to contain costs and keep taxes low, but the only way to avoid more big tax hikes is to dissolve.

“Some of the residents are frustrated,” he said, adding that costs have “been brought down, but now I believe it’s to the point where it can’t come down anymore. It can only go up.”

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