The election of a volunteer firefighter who backs efforts to cut spending -- and taxes -- for beleaguered Gordon Heights Fire District residents will give pro-reform insurgents a 4-1 majority on the board of commissioners when the winner is sworn in next month.
Phillip Gordon, 52, a nurse, is among a faction of Gordon Heights residents who support drastic changes, including possibly dissolving the district to lower fire tax bills that are among the highest on Long Island. Gordon Heights homeowners pay an average of about $1,500 per home -- about four times the Island average -- largely because there's virtually no commercial property to shoulder the tax burden.
"Anything we can do to help the chief to do his job is what I want to do," Gordon said Wednesday, a day after he defeated incumbent Carter Brown, 284-238, in Tuesday's elections. "At the same time, I'm thinking about the taxpayers because the number one issue is the taxes. The taxes are still too high."
But opponents of dissolution said breaking up the district -- which serves about 900 homes in a 1.7-square-mile area -- would be easier said than done, because it could leave residents without fire protection and local ambulance service.
Many residents have expressed concern that ambulance and fire response times would increase if Gordon Heights were served by other districts, said Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert, adding that neighboring fire districts appear reluctant to absorb Gordon Heights because of anticipated added costs.
She favors preserving Gordon Heights -- one of Long Island's first African-American fire districts (founded in 1948) -- and doesn't believe disbanding would produce significant savings for residents.
"This is one of the only African-American fire districts that we have. It's the hub of the community. It's very important to the people who live there," said Kepert, who represents the community. "They respond very quickly. They're there for the other fire departments when they need help. I just think it's really an integral part of the community, and it shouldn't disappear."
Alex Hanson, chairman of the Gordon Heights board of fire commissioners, said the panel has focused its efforts on cutting spending by $300,000 in recent years. Next year's $1.198 million budget cuts costs by about $65,000, he said.
But taxes remain too high, he said, adding that board members are interested in sharing services with neighboring departments to reduce spending. "It's an issue that isn't going away," Hanson said. "Nothing's off the table. Everything's on the table."
Gordon said the election results show most residents want change. "In a sense, I feel vindicated. I also give credit to Mr. Brown," Gordon said. "He's a fireman. I'm a fireman. We have to all work together."