Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gordon Heights Fire District

Mirror, mirror on the wall;
Who's got the highest fire tax of all?

A small fire district with just one fire station claims to have the highest fire taxes in its county, and possibly the highest in New York State. Some property taxpayers are so incensed with the high fire taxes that they're circulating a petition to dissolve the district.

I must be talking about the Fairview Fire District in Dutchess County, right? Well, maybe. But I could just as well be talking about the Gordon Heights Fire District in the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, Long Island.

Fairview and Gordon Heights can't both have the highest fire taxes in New York State — at least not in the same year. So which is higher, Fairview or Gordon Heights? We can answer this question by comparing the fire tax rates for Fairview and Gordon Heights in dollars per thousand dollars of market value (as explained in my last blog post):

  1. The fire tax rates for Fairview and Gordon Heights have been in the same ballpark during the last six years.
  2. In 2004—2007, Gordon Heights had a slightly higher rate than Fairview.
  3. While Fairview's tax rate has stayed roughly constant in recent years, Gordon Heights' rate has been trending slightly downward. Thus, Fairview has taken the title of higher tax rate in the last two years.
Differences between Districts

Although the Fairview and Gordon Heights fire districts are similar in a number of ways, there are two important differences:
  1. Fairview is staffed predominantly by career firefighters, whose salaries and benefits account for the major part of the fire department budget. Gordon Heights is an all volunteer fire district, for which this major budget expense is not needed. This fact makes the Gordon Heights high fire tax rate all the more surprising. But see next item:
  2. The Gordon Heights fire district has been at the center of a continuing scandal involving extravagant and inappropriate expenditures. A recent audit of the Gordon Heights Fire District by the New York State Comptroller documented numerous instances of mismanagement of taxpayer dollars in 2006 and early 2007. In spite of this rebuke, abuses of the public trust by the Gordon Heights Fire District have apparently continued to the present day.

Fairview's fire taxes have been higher than those of Gordon Heights in the last two years, but not by much. If the Gordon Heights fire district were in Dutchess County, it would have the second highest fire tax rate in the county.

So does Fairview have the highest fire tax rate in New York State? The jury is still out. I'd be interested to analyze other fire districts which might compete for this title. Readers are encouraged to nominate candidates.


  1. In 2006, we submitted our first petition to dissolve the Gordon Heights Fire District to the Town of Brookhaven, which they rejected due to "minor technicalities" .

    It was recommended by the Town that we retain an attorney. At a great expense to this low-medium blue collar community, we hired an attorney, who wrote our 2nd petition in the beginning of 2008.

    On Dec 31, 2008, we filed our petition with the Town. In Feb 2009, the format of the petition was accepted by Town's Attorney and handed over to the Tax Assessor's office to be certified. We are currently awaiting for the town to
    certify the signatures on the petition.

    Friday May 1st, 2009, our attorney sent a letter to the town asking for an update on the status of the petition.

  2. According to unofficial sources, the Gordon Heights fire tax rate will increase in 2010 to $4.68 per thousand dollars of market value. Fairview's tax rate will decrease in 2010, to $5.00. So it appears that Fairview will maintain its "lead" over Gordon Heights in 2010.

  3. The Gordon Heights Fire District has a volunteer Fire Department, however they employ 24/7 Emergency Critical Care Technicians which accounts for a major part of their budget. The Gordon Heights Fire District is both a fire and medical emergency agency.
    I read the audit conducted by the Office of the NYS Comptroller; yes the audit suggests they tighten some controls and adopt a few new policies, however there is no mention of mismanagement of funds.
    They say "Read Your Tax Bill" and I did and quess what?, the school tax is almost three times my fire tax.
    Mirror Mirror..........

  4. Response to anonymous: Thanks for that helpful information about the medical emergency agency.

    Regarding the NYS Comptroller audit, the audit's executive summary stated that the District did not provide adequate oversight of the Treasurer, the purchasing function, the pool vehicle and fuel, the lodging expenses, and the annual installation dinner. To me, that's numerous instances of mismanagement.


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