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Editorial: The right way to hold a fire district vote

The Setauket firehouse, shown on Thursday, April 17,

The Setauket firehouse, shown on Thursday, April 17, 2014. The Setauket Fire District is proposing a substantial renovation of its 12,000-square-foot firehouse. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Setauket Fire District wants to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to expand and renovate an old firehouse. The district has been down this road before -- twice -- and voters resoundingly rejected each proposal. But this time the district is involving residents in the planning and holding public meetings to educate them about the proposal. Those are good moves and long overdue. An educated citizenry is always preferable to one left uninformed.

Setauket is not the only local fire district in recent years whose voters turned down big bonding initiatives for new facilities. Often, the cynical rationale has been that bigger buildings are needed to house newer and bigger trucks purchased by the district. In most of the rejections, residents complained about high costs and a lack of communication from the districts about their plans.

The roll call includes the defeat of a $19.75-million proposal in Dix Hills by more than a 3-1 ratio, the rejection of a $7.28-million bond in Cutchogue by an 8-1 ratio, a 7-1 defeat of a $7.5-million plan in Lindenhurst and, most recently, the rejection in July of a $7-million plan in Lido and Point Lookout by a 3-1 margin.

Voter rejection in Setauket was even more one-sided. A $17.5-million proposal in 2005 failed by a 444-25 vote, and a $12.9-million plan went down, 975-153, in 2008. The new plan is still expensive -- $14.9 million -- but the district formed a citizens committee to help draft it and is holding public information meetings.

Residents might approve the proposal this time -- or again reject it as too expensive or unnecessary. That's their prerogative. But this vote, after the department's outreach and information campaign, should be the final word. If the proposal goes down for the third time, the district should make other plans.