Long Island residents are to go to the polls Tuesday to elect fire commissioners and vote on propositions that include lowering the entitlement age for volunteer firefighters to receive pension benefits from the service award program.
There will be at least 30 contested elections and a minimum of five propositions for voters to decide upon.
Long Island fire district commissioners, who are unpaid, oversee budgets that total more than $300 million.
“The running of the fire district is an important function of the board of fire commissioners,” said Anthony Gallino, first vice president of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York and a commissioner in the Rocky Point fire district.
“Today’s budgets have grown; my own district’s is over $4 million. You want to have the right people in place making the right decisions and people that are able to balance fiscal responsibility along with equipping the volunteer firemen, who do a wonderful job, with the best equipment you possibly can.”
In Copiague, incumbent Arthur Steigert is being challenged by Scott Sattler for a five-year seat. In West Babylon, incumbent William Klein and challenger John Brooks are also seeking a five-year term.
In Centerport, longtime volunteer and incumbent Harry Acker, who was appointed to an unexpired five-year term in June, is facing challenger Stanley Wertheimer for the remaining two years of the term.
In North Babylon, a proposition on lowering the entitlement age from 65 to 62 for volunteer firefighters to receive benefits from the service award program will go to a vote. The change would take effect in January and cost an additional $98,537 annually.
In Gordon Heights, where residents pay among the highest fire district taxes on Long Island, backers of a reform movement that has a 4-1 majority on the board are trying to hold onto a seat being vacated by Commissioner Mary Ann Owens. Reformers back retired corrections officer Willie Gadson, who is opposed by former fire Commissioner Chesley Ruffin. Ruffin lost to Owens in 2010 and lost a bid last year to unseat Commissioner Alex Hanson.
Ruffin was convicted in 2013 of Brookhaven Town code violations at three Medford houses he owns. Sentencing information was not available.
Rosalie Hanson, a Gadson supporter and the wife of Alex Hanson, blamed Ruffin for helping raise taxes during his stints as a commissioner.
“We would still have a majority of the votes,” if Ruffin wins, Hanson said. “We fight for every seat, and we fight every year. . . . We want to maintain what we have.”
Rosalie Hanson said the current board successfully applied for a $250,000 state grant for firehouse renovations. “That saves us money. These are things that have to get done,” she said.
In Huntington, Jimmy C. Martin Jr. is challenging incumbent Thomas Brown for a five-year term. Through a proposition on the ballot, district leaders are seeking voter permission to sell a one-acre parcel of unimproved land on Oakwood Road, which is valued at about $550,000.
District Commissioner Edmund Erickson said the land was purchased a few years back to build a substation in the southern part of the district when a nearby plot was earmarked for senior housing. That plot was subsequently turned into a park.
“Now we don’t have that need,” Erickson said. “The chiefs of the department don’t think there is a need for a substation in that area.”
In Nassau County, a proposition in Garden City Park would increase maximum years of service credit for the volunteer firefighter program from 30 years to 40 years.
In the Hewlett Bay Fire District, Katherine Archibald, district secretary, said there is a proposition on the ballot for a reserve fund that would be paid for with district savings. The fund would pay “for the radios and technology that we see coming down the road.”
CORRECTION: Hewlett Bay Fire District officials said the ballot proposition for a reserve fund that is on Tuesday’s election will be paid for with district savings.