The Hicksville Fire District Board of Commissioners would like to take this opportunity to respond to the article "Weitzman: Special Districts Costing Taxpayers, Calls for the Elimination of Commissioner-Run Sanitation Districts," which appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of the Hicksville Illustrated News.
Weitzman appears to take the position that all fire districts and fire protection districts are easily comparable based upon the taxes collected for fire protection in the particular area serviced. We disagree. We believe that our fire district officials are constantly making decisions to provide the best fire protection and emergency services for their residents and to make certain that their volunteer firefighters can perform their duties safely.
Fire commissioners in commissioner-run districts perform their duties as publicly elected volunteer public officers and make financial decisions based upon those objectives taking into account the unique needs of their community. In Nassau County the services are delivered with a predominantly volunteer fire service, which means that as taxpayers we all start with an advantage.
Thus, our first objective as a community needs to be to do all that we can to preserve the volunteer nature of our local fire department. Fire service will not be cheaper if it is consolidated at the town or county level since that consolidation will erode the volunteer nature of the service and convert it to a paid service.
In fire districts, fire commissioners make the difficult decisions that involve doing more with less and involve asking volunteers to find ways to be more efficient and effective. The board of fire commissioners has looked at the needs of Hicksville and worked to provide state-of-the-art facilities, state-of-the-art equipment, and to promote safety for our volunteers. This occurs despite the fact that the State of New York continues to send down unfunded mandates that must be met by the local fire district and paid for by our taxpayers.
Is it possible that some of the disparities noted in the report relate to the fact that some communities are proactively addressing mandate compliance while others are not? Is it possible that the hard work of some communities served by fire districts to provide excellent emergency service resources that then participate in a countywide mutual aid system, are enabling other communities to keep costs down by relying on these mutual aid resources?
We want our residents to know that in Hicksville your fire protection is second to none and that the cost of this service is within reason and delivered at an average-to-low cost when you look at the equipment, services and emergency capacity that we have provided to our residents through the volunteer men and women of the Hicksville Fire Department.
Local government and local control means that there are five fire commissioners in your community publicly elected by you and answerable to you every year at the polls (five-year terms with at least one office always up for vote on an annual basis).
The article suggests that fire service costs would go down if fire service was based on the town-controlled fire protection district model. Again, the readers are not given all the facts. Weitzman suggests that in this model the town board would exercise more control and keep costs down. The simple fact of the matter is that in the fire-protection model the town board enters into a fire protection contract with the local independent fire company or fire corporation and expects that volunteer entity to provide services to a community it protects. Certainly, in recent years town boards have done more strenuous reviews of the proposed fire company/ corporation budget at the contract approval phase, but for the most part that is when scrutiny by elected officials begins and ends in these areas. They trust the volunteer officers and members of the volunteer fire department they have contracted with to perform the emergency services and be responsive to community needs.
It is interesting that over 1,000 registered voters in our community have voted at our fire district election in each of the past five years, and the response they hear from county officials is that not enough of their fellow voters come to vote so the solution is to eliminate their fire district and take away their right to vote on fire service matters. Quite simply, someone has to stand up for the people who put the effort in and come out and vote. Switching the system to a town- or county-based system takes away the right to vote directly on fire service issues and it is wrong.
Many legislative changes have been made in the past few years to improve accountability and transparency in fire districts. Give those legislative changes a chance to work.
In closing, we go back to the letter sent by Weitzman to our board in June 2007 that he also had published in the Hicksville Illustrated News, stating: "I strongly support our local fire districts and never have called for their elimination or consolidation. The mission of the State's Commission on Local Government Efficiency, on which I serve, is not the elimination or consolidation of all special districts in the state, but rather to identify opportunities for savings among New York State's more than 4,200 taxing districts that could result in lower property taxes for state residents."
You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say I oppose consolidation of fire districts and then suggest the public would be better off with town controlled fire protection districts.
Weitzman, there is no "Wheel of Fortune" in Hicksville. The board of fire commissioners dedicates itself to providing fire protection and other emergency services in our community and makes the difficult decisions to make certain that the chief of our department and his members have the resources needed on a day-to-day basis to ensure their job can be done safely.
Our fire service decisions are not limited to approving one fire protection contract at one town board meeting per year.
Harry J. Single Jr., chairman
Robert E. Manson, vice chairman
Charles K. Hearon, commissioner
Patrick Scanlon, commissioner
William E. Thunell, commissioner
Hicksville Fire District