Bay Shore Fire District officials said they are working to expand the district, potentially undoing what some residents have criticized as taxation without representation.
The expansion would give voting rights to residents of northern and West Bay Shore, who already pay for the district’s services through a municipal contract, officials said. They cannot vote in fire elections because they live outside the district’s official boundaries.
“It’s the way it’s been all my life,” fire district chairman Greg Nardone, 60, said. “It’ll be good if we can get other people involved.”
The district is responsible for the administrative operations of the 150-member volunteer Bay Shore Fire Department, including the budget, employees, fire chief appointments and equipment, officials said.
The district provides fire protection services to more than 33,000 residents in an 8-square-mile area from the Southern State Parkway to the Great South Bay, according to district documents.
Less than half that area is officially part of the district, which is bounded by Sunrise Highway, officials said. Residents outside the boundaries pay a slightly larger share of the district's tax levy through fire services contracts, according to district documents.
Harry Brown, a lifelong Bay Shore resident who cannot vote in fire district elections, said it is an “injustice” that “such few people control the destiny” of fire issues that affect thousands.
“It’s something that should’ve been changed decades ago, said Brown, 70, a vice president of a manufacturing company.
The fire district boundaries outline an area that is typically higher-income, less populated and less diverse than the northern half of the hamlet it also protects, residents said.
The divide dates back to the fire department’s creation in 1891, when most of the surrounding area was farmland, fire district secretary Ed Kunz said.
Islip officials approached the district about consolidating with the Bay Shore Fire Protection District – the area served through a contract with the town – about two years ago, officials said.
That same year, several Bay Shore residents realized they couldn’t vote when they wanted to decide on a referendum for $10.9 million in bonds to fund capital improvements, including renovating the main firehouse.
"We live in a democracy, and the more residents that have an opportunity to participate in the process, the more effective the process would be," Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said.
Fire district officials will look into expanding the district into Brightwaters, which is protected through a contract, after evaluating the effort in northern Bay Shore, Nardone said.
Officials say there are few downsides to opening up the district’s boundaries, which Kunz called "the right thing to do." It would create more voters and potentially boost election turnout, Kunz said. Fewer than 30 voted in the December election.
The move could also lead to more candidates for commissioner, officials said. While anyone in the fire protection area can be a firefighter or serve as a fire chief, only district residents can run for office, officials said. Bay Shore is about 30 percent white, and the district's board of five unpaid, elected commissioners is all white, officials said.
Bay Shore Fire District residents typically pay a higher tax rate for fire services, at $11.07 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2017, according to district documents. Residents outside the district paid $7.23 per $1,000 in assessed value that same year, but a larger overall portion of the district’s budget at $1.99 million. District residents paid a $1.8 million tax levy in 2017. The district’s 2019 budget is $4 million.
The change in boundaries would have to be approved by the fire district board, the Islip Town Board and likely the residents of the fire protection area, officials said.