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Firefighters to argue Garden City's decision to eliminate paid department

The village voted in July to abolish the

The village voted in July to abolish the Garden City Fire Department. Credit: Steven Pfost

The village of Garden City and its paid firefighters will go to court Wednesday to determine if the village’s ruling to eliminate the department was valid.

Firefighters are also seeking to collect 3,600 resident signatures by Monday to bring the fate of the 11-member paid fire department to a villagewide special referendum vote.  Firefighters had 30 days to collect petitions to force a ballot measure.

Board members voted 6-1 last month to abolish the 90-year paid fire department that they say will save the village about $2 million. The village will rely on its 100-member volunteer force, officials said.

A Nassau Supreme Court justice issued a temporary restraining order Aug. 15 — after residents and firefighters filed a lawsuit —prohibiting the village from carrying out its July 25 resolution to eliminate the department. The firefighters remain on paid leave.

The court will hear arguments from six residents and firefighter union members who claim the village’s ruling was invalid because the board did not conduct an environmental review before its vote, failed to comply with the state’s open meeting law and violated the village’s ethics code and conflict of interest rules.

Union president T.J. Michon said the union is in discussions with the village for a possible settlement. Village officials said they are involved in settlement negotiations, but otherwise declined to comment. 

“Whether the resolution gets thrown out or goes to a referendum, ultimately, we think it should be in the hands of the residents what type of fire department it wants to have and not in the hands of a few individuals,” Michon said.  

Garden City had one of the few paid fire departments on Long Island, aside from Long Beach and recently Setauket, which created four paid firefighter positions to adhere to Civil Service rules.

The lawsuit filed against the village said trustees did not properly post the resolution and denied the public the chance to participate in the hearing. Residents also argued the village did not complete a risk assessment of eliminating the paid department and how it would change protection of the village.

Residents and firefighters also argued that village Trustee Mark Hyer should have abstained from the vote because he is a volunteer firefighter, which could be perceived as a conflict of interest, according to their complaint.

Garden City Mayor Brian Daughney said during the meeting that the paid department accounted for 3 percent of the village budget and responded to three active fires last year.

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