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Old Field moves to join Setauket Fire District, eying taxes

Old Field Mayor Michael Levine says the move

Old Field Mayor Michael Levine says the move to make the village part of the Setauket Fire District will finally give Old Field residents a voice in fire district issues. Feb. 22, 2017 Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

By this time next year, Old Field residents may officially be part of the Setauket Fire District.

The small North Shore village of about 1,000 residents, which does not have its own fire department, has been paying the Setauket district for emergency services on a contract basis for 30 years or more. Village officials are working on a plan to formally join the district later this year.

Village residents will pay taxes directly to the district — and they will also be able to serve as fire commissioners and vote in district elections, which they currently cannot do.

Village Mayor Michael Levine said the move will finally give Old Field residents a voice in fire district issues.

“It just makes sense,” Levine said in an interview. “As a contract vendee, you just make a payment, but you don’t have a say in what happens in the Setauket Fire District.”

Nearly 40 percent of Old Field’s annual $1,115,500 budget goes to pay the fire district. The village is due to pay the district about $417,000 this year.

Village officials began considering a change in late 2015, when fire district officials proposed increasing the village’s annual contribution, Levine said. District officials at that time wanted the village to hike its payment from $380,000 to more than $500,000, he said.

Levine said that would have been too much for the village, which has about 400 homes and no businesses.

“Our biggest issue is our contract with the Setauket Fire District, which raises the cost to the village on a yearly basis,” he said.

Village officials proposed to instead join the district, a move that required state approval. The State Legislature last year passed a bill allowing the change, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill last fall, Levine said.

Setauket district manager David Sterne said the switch would not affect how the fire department serves Old Field. He said several village residents already serve as fire department volunteers.

“We were covering the village anyway on a contractual basis,” he said. “It doesn’t change how we operate in any way.”

Levine said Setauket fire officials have “supported us the entire time.”

Brookhaven Town officials are awaiting a report on the district’s proposed new boundaries and its potential economic impact before scheduling a public hearing on the plan, senior assistant town attorney Marie Michel said.

Sterne said the addition of 400 homes to the district may result in a slight tax cut for the district’s existing residents. “It would be safe to assume that the rest of the district would see some savings,” he said.

Old Field residents will see a new line for the Setauket Fire District on their tax bills next year if the change is completed, Levine said. Village residents also should see a substantial village tax cut next year because the village budget will be reduced by about 40 percent.

Levine said Old Field residents also should see lower village taxes “not just for one year, but probably for many, many years to come.”

VILLAGE TO BENEFIT FROM JOINING FIRE DISTRICT

Advantages of joining the Setauket Fire District, according to Old Field Village officials:

  • Cuts village’s annual budget by almost 40 percent.
  • Cuts village taxes.
  • Village residents can serve as Setauket fire commissioners.
  • Village residents may vote in fire district elections.

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