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Vote Tuesday on expanding St. James fire buildings

St. James Fire District residents plan to vote Tuesday on expanding two of the district's buildings with a $8.75 million bond.

Voting takes place from 3 to 9 p.m. at Station 2, 221 Jefferson Ave.

If the bond vote passes, homeowners could expect to pay $37 more for every $1,000 of assessed value on their property annually for the 19-year bond term, Commissioner Joseph H. Kuethen said. "Depending on people's property taxes, they're going to go up anywhere from $80 to $200 for 19 years," he said.

The average single family home within the Town of Smithtown is assessed at $5,500, said Smithtown Assessor Peter D. Johnson, who said that assessment figures on homes specifically within the St. James Fire District were unavailable. An October letter from the district's Board of Fire Commissioners addressed to residents said a primary reason for the project is to increase the fire stations' floor space for the safety of first responders.

The last addition to a district building was in 1978, the letter said, and during the past 35 years "the size of the fire apparatus has grown dramatically due to safety requirements. Also over that same time span, we have increased the number of fire and EMS apparatus we must have to maintain the high level of protection we provide to you in the Community."

The proposed project would take place at both Station 2 and the district's headquarters at 533 N. Country Rd. for an estimated $5.5 million and $3.25 million, respectively.

Kuethen said Station 2 would expand by 11,342 square feet. Additions include three apparatus bays, more office space and a larger meeting and training room, with pull-down beds, available for civic functions.

Station 2's bathroom would be made compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kuethen said, to "make it a community-friendly building" and because such compliance is mandated for "substantial" renovations. The building's parking lot would increase to 62 from 45 spaces, he said.

Headquarters would expand across two floors by a total of 6,172 square feet, Kuethen said. Additions include two apparatus bays, an expanded kitchen, installation of an elevator and another first-floor bathroom. Two new ADA-compliant bathrooms with showers would be added to the second floor, along with an expanded training room with fold-down beds.

Leonard Gombert, 48, a fire department member for 31 years, said he thought that improvements were needed but, "Do we need 8.75 million in improvements? I don't think so . . . I think they're trying to keep up with the Joneses" of other fire departments.

Karl Walz Jr., of St. James, also questioned the expansion size, saying: "I can understand if they're older buildings and they're getting newer trucks that don't fit . . . But I feel that this is a waste of money."

Kuethen said several people who stopped by an informational booth at St. James Day this year seemed to favor the bond, adding: "We're anticipating this to be a one-time bond for expansion. We can't foresee the need for any additions after this."

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