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Oct 14, 2015 10:20 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bridgehampton CAC Encourages Fire District Residents To Vote No At Bond Vote

The Bridgehampton Fire Department advertised its upcoming budget hearing, as well as its proposed 2016 budget. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Oct 21, 2015 10:19 AM

The Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, out of frustration, is encouraging residents to vote “no” on October 20 on a proposed bond issue for the hamlet’s fire department, blaming the department’s unwillingness to discuss the details of the proposal—and of a proposed 22-percent budget increase next year—in advance.

The bond, if approved by Bridgehampton Fire District residents in a special vote next week, would allow the department to spend just over $1 million to purchase a new fire truck featuring a large tank and a 77-foot ladder, allowing firefighters to more easily reach the second and third stories of homes.

The vote on the bond will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, October 20, at the firehouse, which is located at 64 School Street in Bridgehampton. A budget hearing will be held that night, as well, and a public vote on the budget will be in December.

CAC members say that there has been sparse communication between the fire department and the community about the purchase, and they want the fire department to take public input into consideration, particularly when making costly decisions.

“Apparently, this year they are presenting their bond issue for a vote for a new truck,” said CAC Co-Chair Nancy Walter-Yvertes, emphasizing that she does not know much about the proposal—and that’s the point. “There have been no presentations to the community for why they need it, why they can’t borrow [one], and how many times they would use it.”

Bridgehampton Fire Commissioner John O’Brien said that the fire district has met all of the “legal requirements,” in that it advertises votes ahead of time in the newspaper. On September 17, there was notice of the vote in The Southampton Press and a letter to the public explaining why the truck is important.

If approved by voters on October 20, the fire district would borrow up to $850,000 in the 10-year bond issue, using capital reserve funds for the remainder of the cost of the truck. In the open letter, the department says it does not have an aerial truck and relies on mutual aid from other departments when one is needed. “Aerial trucks are critical to both the safety of our residents and the safety of our firefighters,” it reads, adding that the new truck would replace a “very old fire engine” that was due to be retired.

In an interview last week, Mr. O’Brien added that if community members want additional information, they can attend the fire district’s meetings, which are held twice a month. “We tell them [CAC members] to come to the meetings,” he said. “They are open meetings.”

Out of frustration, last week the CAC approved a resolution calling for the fire department to address what they call “communication issues.” The CAC’s recommendations to the department include enhancing public participation, creating an interactive fire department website that answers community questions, giving advance notice about pending votes via mailings to residents, and delivering a more detailed explanation of the proposed $1 million bond issue.

CAC member Leonard Davenport reiterated Ms. Walter-Yvertes’s comments: “To have a bond issue go forward for a million dollars without public input is what we are objecting to.”

Ms. Walter-Yvertes says that the community frustration is not new: A few years back, the fire department bought the land that houses the Pulver Gas building for $3.9 million. The CAC also claimed then that fire district officials did not give public notice and rushed through the purchase without explaining it to community members.

“The bond issue was approved by the CAC on the condition that they provide follow-up,” Ms. Walter-Yvertes said of the earlier purchase. “They did nothing to the building—it is an eyesore on Main Street.” She added that the community still does not know what the fate of the building will be.

Also on October 20, there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. on the fire district’s proposed 2016 budget, which has increased taxes by about 33 percent over the current year’s—from $2.28 million to $3.02 million. Roughly $350,000 of the new budget will be spent on two new ambulances, and $424,000 will be spent on bonds and the interest that comes with them, such as those issued to pay for the purchase of the Pulver Gas building.

Mr. Davenport said that community members similarly received no information on the proposed budget and thus do not understand the increase.

Ms. Walter-Yvertes said the fire district should follow the same protocol as other taxing entities. “When the school has a very large budget, they email members of the community, and they have several hearings on the budget—and then there is a vote,” she said. “The fire department doesn’t inform anybody, except for the classifieds that they bury, which we saw this year. We think there should be a better process.”

When asked for details about the budget increase, Mr. O’Brien replied, “You can come to the meeting.” He added, “We got nothing to hide.”

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Typical fire department mentality. "We'll raise your taxes and spend the money however we want-screw you how dare you question us!" Imagine if the town or county tried to hide their spending of TAXPAYER funds!
By PoliticallyIncorrect (45), earth on Oct 14, 15 11:07 AM
As a concerned citizen the meetings are open. Some districts have a equipment reserve fund [save each year] and don't have to borrow. Public input would be good. If you don't attend, don't CRY...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Oct 14, 15 11:26 AM
A one million dollar fire truck! Wow! Does it come with an expresso machine?
By bird (829), Sag Harbor on Oct 14, 15 9:01 PM
It would be nice for once if people knew what they were talking about and had all the information before they went forth to a public news paper or decided to launch an attack on the people that are trying to protect you. But don't worry they will still come to your aid when you need them whether you like them or not.
By lckeating (3), Sag Harbor on Oct 15, 15 8:48 AM
2 members liked this comment