Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rubin Elected Fairview Fire Commissioner; Second Race Is Tied

This post was originally published on December 15, 2012 at 7:40 PM, but has been updated three times, as indicated below.

In a remarkable cliff-hanger election in the Fairview Fire District on December 11, Virginia Buechele and Alan Crotty are tied for the three-year fire commissioner position. Your devoted blogger was elected to a five-year commissioner position.

Three-Year Commissioner Slot

Out of 92 ballots cast, each of the two candidates in the three-year contest received 46 votes. Buechele, former leader of the Fairness for Fairview advocacy organization, has been a Fairview fire commissioner for one year. Her opponent, Alan Crotty, was a volunteer Fairview Fire Chief in the early '90s, but has not been involved in Fairview issues in recent years. As in the 2008, 2009, and 2011 elections, this contest was a choice between a relative newcomer aligned with taxpayer advocacy and a veteran aligned with the fire station. Voter turnout was considerably lower than in any previous contested election in the last five years.

Remarkably, the result of the three-year contest was delayed until a few days ago. That's because during the election, the election inspectors arranged for a provisional ballot for a voter not listed on Fairview's voter roll. It wasn't until December 13 that the Dutchess County Board of Elections determined that this voter was indeed a legitimate voter in the Fairview Fire District, mistakenly omitted from the roll. When the election inspectors opened the provisional ballot at a public meeting on December 13 at 5:30 P.M., it was found to be the tying vote. According to New York State law, tied races are to be decided by a special runoff election between the two candidates within 45 days after the election. However, this deadline will be missed. See UPDATE 1/1/2013 below.

Five-Year Commissioner Slot

It was not determined until November 21 that the five-year commissioner slot would be uncontested, although I did not find out until November 26. I received 74 votes out of the 92 ballots cast. Of the remaining 18 ballots, 14 were blank and 4 went to two write-in candidates.

Fairview Still Won't Have a Full Board

Instead of the normal 5-member board of fire commissioners, Fairview has had only 4 or fewer commissioners for the last year and a half. This deficiency has inevitably meant that less work got done. It also has made decision-making more difficult. For example, the board failed to appoint a commissioner last winter because of a 2-2 deadlock.

There was every reason to expect that this month's election would finally allow the board to achieve full strength. But the impossible-to-anticipate tie means that the board's next meeting on January 8-th will once again be with only 4 commissioners. Presumably, this problem will be resolved expeditiously with the run-off election. Unless, of course, it again results in a tie!

This Blog Will Change

When I take office as Fairview Fire Commissioner on January 8, this blog will change in three ways:
  1. I probably won't publish posts critical of Fairview Fire District officials. After all, I'll be one of them. I expect to make my views known from the inside.
  2. I probably won't publish posts on factual topics related to the Fairview Fire District, such as Fairview fire tax rates, Fairview exempt percents, and so on. My preference would be for such information to appear on the Fairview Fire District website.
  3. The frequency of posts will diminish because I will have less time to conduct property tax investigations.
UPDATE 1/1/2013 - Tied Race To Be Contested in Court
In recent days, Buechele has taken legal action to challenge the official result of the three-year contest, claiming that the provisional ballot was improperly prepared, and therefore should not have been counted. If Buechele's claim is upheld by the court, she would be declared the winner of the three-year contest. The court is scheduled to hear arguments for both sides on January 9. Until this dispute is resolved, plans for a runoff election are on hold.

UPDATE 5/20/2013 - Court Rules Against Buechele; Appeal is Planned

On January 9, Supreme Court Judge Peter Forman heard arguments from Buechele's attorney and from the Fairview Fire District's attorney. On May 15, Forman issued a ruling against Buechele. She plans an appeal.

UPDATE 6/25/2013 - Buechele Loses Appeal, but Wins Run-Off Election

On June 18, Buechele's appeal was heard by four judges of the appellate court. The next day, they issued a ruling against Buechele. This ruling paved the way for the Fairview Fire District to go ahead with a run-off election planned for today. The result of today's election is 106 votes for Buechele, 97 votes for Crotty, and 3 invalid ballots. Thus, after an additional half-year delay, Fairview will finally have a full roster of five fire commissioners, for the first time in about two years.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fairview Versus Fairview

I've been meaning to write this frivolous post for a long time. Now's the time. No, it's not a belated April fools joke.

The Fairview Fire District is a small fire district, only a few square miles in size, formed early in the twentieth century. Yet it has a large budget, since it's a predominantly career fire district which provides both fire protection and emergency medical services. Fairview responds to a few thousand alarms per year. Fairview contains many tax exempt properties including a community college and other institutions of learning, a religious hospital facility, town and county government properties, institutions for people with disabilities, and various other not-for-profit organizations. Approximately half of Fairview's market value is tax exempt. As a result of all these factors, Fairview has the highest fire tax rate in the county, and perhaps one of the highest fire tax rates in New York State.

I'm obviously describing the Fairview Fire District in Dutchess County, right? Right?!?

Nope. I fooled you! Although all of the above well describes Fairview in Dutchess, the above narrative just as well describes the Fairview Fire District in Westchester County. That's right, the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County contains a fire district called the Fairview Fire District. It's just spooky how many similarities there are between the two same-named districts.

Similarities Between the Two Fairviews

Fairview in Dutchess is 4.5 square miles; Fairview in Westchester is 5.5 square miles. Fairview in Dutchess was formed in 1910; Fairview in Westchester was formed in 1927. Both districts have multi-million dollar budgets primarily derived from fire taxes, though both receive some income from Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs). Fairview in Dutchess has approximately 17 career firefighters and about as many volunteer members, responding to about 1,750 alarms each year; Fairview in Westchester has 45 career firefighters and 16 volunteer members, responding to about 2,500 alarms each year.

Fairview in Dutchess contains Dutchess Community College; Fairview in Westchester contains Westchester Community College. Folks, I'm not making this up! Fairview in Dutchess contains St. Francis Hospital; Fairview in Westchester contains the Hebrew Hospital Home. Fairview in Dutchess contains Dutchess County and Town of Poughkeepsie government properties; Fairview in Westchester contains Westchester County and Town of Greenburgh government properties. Fairview in Dutchess contains Greystone Programs; Fairview in Westchester contains a center for retarded adults run by the New York State Division of Mental Health. You get the picture.

The last I looked (2012), 51.7 percent of the market value for Fairview in Dutchess is tax exempt. For Fairview in Westchester, the corresponding figure is “more than 47 percent”.

Now let's get to the fun part — tax rates. You knew I'd get to that eventually. The 2013 true value tax rate for Fairview in Dutchess is $6.70; that for Fairview in Westchester is “only” $4.80. Still, $4.80 is quite a high fire tax rate. One official of Fairview in Westchester believes it is the highest fire tax rate in Westchester County.

Differences Between the Two Fairviews

Fairview in Dutchess has a single firehouse, which is staffed 24x7. Fairview in Westchester has two firehouses, which are staffed on a more limited basis. Fairview in Dutchess spans portions of two towns, Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park; Fairview in Westchester is entirely contained within the Town of Greenburgh. There are undoubtedly other differences between the two Fairviews, but they've been more difficult to find than the similarities. Nope, you just can't make this stuff up.