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LI fire district races set for Tuesday

A sign for McDowell for Commissioner sits on

A sign for McDowell for Commissioner sits on a lawn on Bayview Avenue in Blue Point. (Dec. 6, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

A commissioner who sued his own district over disability benefits and a resident who wants to reduce Long Island's highest fire taxes are among nearly 200 candidates running for commissioner seats in fire district elections Tuesday.

In South Farmingdale, Commissioner Richard Bylicki is fighting fire board allegations that he wrongly received Length of Service Awards Program disability benefits. His opponent is attorney John Boklak.

District officials stopped Bylicki's benefits in 2010, saying that as the district's awards program administrator he amended provisions to gain an additional $48,000 total in benefits and did not meet the district's definition of disabled, court documents show. The program pays a monthly bonus to retired firefighters based on length of service.

Bylicki is appealing a 2011 Nassau County Supreme Court denial of his petition to have his benefits reinstated.

Bylicki, 53, a commissioner since 2003, said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder working as an NYPD sergeant at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. He retired with NYPD disability benefits, court records show.

"I don't want to be disabled, and I didn't want to be there that day, but I was," he said, adding that he filed the lawsuit because of "a difference of medical opinion."

In court filings, Bylicki said he did not solely approve the length of service amendment.

Boklak, 42, a two-year South Farmingdale firefighter, said his "background of running a business" would help guard taxpayer dollars.

In long-embattled Gordon Heights, where a group has been advocating for dissolving the district because of high taxes, challenger Joyce Bourne is running against incumbent James Kelly and newcomer James Freeman.

Bourne, 67, lost last year by one vote to current Commissioner Avery Dean. She says she's got the same platform, aiming to cut spending and lower taxes.

"I try to do what's right by the people," she said. "It's just too much for a small community with a small income."

If she wins, Bourne would be the third person on the five-member board who wants to slash spending.

Freeman, 47, of Middle Island, said he wants to retain the district "in order for the residents to have efficient and timely service," he said, and added that if elected, he would plan "realistic" budgets.

Kelly did not return repeated phone calls.

In Blue Point, firefighter Warren McDowell, 68, filed a lawsuit against his department for suspending him earlier this year, based on what he said was departmental anger that he chose to run despite not being its chosen candidate.

Blue Point Fire Chief Doug Cibuls declined to comment on the reason for the suspension. The lawsuit was dismissed, Cibuls said; McDowell says it was withdrawn.

McDowell said he's running because he wants "taxpayers to have a say in what takes place in the budget." Repeated calls to his opponent, firefighter Michael Dollop, were not returned.

In Syosset, Richard Meinhardt, a former commissioner who left office in 2004 after charges of falsifying records to obtain disability benefits, is running against Thomas Feeney to return to the board.

Meinhardt, 69, said he pleaded guilty to avoid costly legal fees, paying a fine and doing community service, but believes he would have beat the charges.

The Nassau County district attorney said Meinhardt received workers' compensation for a 1995 injury, but in 2003, investigators videotaped him moving furniture. He said he shouldn't have been straining himself physically while helping a friend. Meinhardt, who said he has "nothing to hide," said his neck injury required six surgeries.

The incident has "nothing to do with me being a commissioner," said Meinhardt, who still volunteers, adding he seeks to address "unnecessary spending" in the district.

Feeney, 43, an FDNY dispatcher and Syosset volunteer firefighter, said he had no comment about Meinhardt's past and called him a friend. Feeney said after a 2011 fire at his home resulted in "an outpouring of support from the community," he wanted "to pay it forward" and decided to run for the board.

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