Head of the Harbor Village would join the St. James Fire District — a move likely to raise emergency protection costs but give village residents more say in district decisions — under a plan outlined in the latest draft contract between the two bodies and discussed by village and fire district leaders in interviews this week.
“We think this is a smart thing for the community as a whole," Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said of the plan, which needs approval from village, town and state lawmakers and from district commissioners. “Our residents have said to us, ‘We’d like to vote,' " in the elections and referendums that set district leadership, budget and major policies, he said.
Relations between the village and the district grew strained in recent years after fire commissioners announced plans to close the main firehouse in St. James and raise the village's coverage fee, steps they said they needed to take to improve service districtwide.
The draft contract, which is scheduled for a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Village Hall, calls for the district to keep one truck at the main firehouse at Route 25A and Lake Avenue. Fire district board of commissioners chairman William Kearney said the district had no plans to close that firehouse.
The village, which does not have its own fire department, has for decades paid a yearly fee to the district for fire and advanced life support first response coverage. The draft version of the latest contract calls for the village to pay $419,114 for 2020 coverage and $502,936 for 2021 coverage.
There are about 525 homes in the village and 6,050 in the district. Kearney said that village residents now pay about 40% of what district residents pay for coverage.
District property taxes are $127.60 per $1,000 of assessed value, a rate Kearney said could drop after inclusion of the village or remain steady to fund reserves and facilities and equipment upgrades, including replacement of vehicles he said are decades old. The district’s proposed 2020 budget is $2.8 million.
As part of the district, village residents, who now pay for fire protection through village property taxes, would instead pay a levy for fire district taxes as part of their Town of Smithtown taxes.
Dahlgard said it might take six months to two years for the village to join the district.
Kearney, who faces an election in December, said inclusion of the district would end an exhausting cycle of contract negotiations between officials for the two bodies and require village residents to pay “equal freight” with their district neighbors.
Troy Rosasco, a village resident and head of Citizens for a Safer St. James, a group that advocates for keeping the main firehouse open, said inclusion of the village in the district would “provide much better service and will guarantee the main firehouse on 25A will remain open.”