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Hearing on Gordon Heights fire district

A file photo of fire districts elections. Here,

A file photo of fire districts elections. Here, residents enter the Gordon Heights Firehouse to cast their ballots. (Dec. 14, 2010) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Search or seizure.

Those are Brookhaven Town's options for the future of the Gordon Heights Fire District, a consultant has recommended. The town board, which discussed the findings Thursday, set a March 15 public hearing to air the alternatives.

A consultant hired by the town told Brookhaven officials there are two possibilities for lowering taxes in the 900-home district, which is the most-taxed on Long Island, with some homeowners paying upward of $1,500 per year for fire service. According to the consultant, the options are:

Seizing district finances by town government, which could reduce the district's $1.4 million annual budget by 40 percent.

Searching for a new fire service provider through competitive bidding, creating a new town fire protection district and dissolving the existing district.

The options "put . . . [the town] in the driver's seat" in terms of spending, which anti-tax advocates have said is out of control in the district, said Phil Kouwe, executive vice president at Emergency Services Consulting International of Oregon, which the town paid $91,000 to study options for the district.

Town Supervisor Mark Lesko said the town may vote to adopt one of the options at the March 15 meeting, which promises to be contentious.

The hearing will be the culmination of five years of campaigning from fire district opponents who petitioned the town to dissolve the district.

Fire district supporters and anti-tax advocates promised to attend the hearing. The fire department has a special place in the community, one of the poorest in Suffolk County, because it was founded as the county's first all-black force in the 1940s. Today, the department is racially integrated.

Fire Chief Erton Rudder said the existing district should remain intact to ensure prompt response times.

"You can't sacrifice that. Fire moves at an unbelievable rate," he said.

But Gina Previte, who has campaigned to close the district, said she can't afford the taxes it imposes. "My home is attached to these tax rates," she said.

James Kelly, chairman of the Gordon Heights Fire Commission, said he was still examining the consultant's report. "We're just digesting it," he said.

The hearing will be 6 p.m. in town hall in Farmingville. The options will be the only item discussed, Lesko said.

In other news, the board announced the completion of the Carmans River Watershed Protection and Management Plan.

The plan "protects 9,100 acres of the Carmans River watershed, while directing development away from the river," said Dick Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society and a co-author of the plan.

The town board is expected to formally accept the plan Tuesday. A public hearing on the plan - expected to be adopted into law - will be in March, Lesko said.

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