Volunteer firefighters are barraging lawmakers with complaints about a bill from state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to streamline consolidation of fire districts and other local governments. Firefighters want fire districts excluded from the measure, which eases the process for petitioning for referendums to abolish governments. Cuomo has said the bill would lower property taxes.
Firefighters Thursday questioned how much would be saved from districts run by volunteers. They also said consolidation could undermine service because volunteers may not want to protect communities outside their own.
Lawmakers traditionally have been loath to anger firefighters. The criticism comes as the State Senate and Assembly prepare to take up Cuomo’s bill next week.
“There’s no groundswell of taxpayers complaining about the fire service,” said Thomas J. Cuff Jr., president of the 130,000-member Firemen’s Association and a Levittown volunteer. “Fire districts represent about 1 percent of the typical homeowner’s real-estate taxes while about 70 percent is school districts . . . We aren’t the problem.”
Staff for the association and for Cuomo met Thursday, but no breakthrough was reported.
Absent a compromise, Assemb. Phil Boyle (R-East Islip) said he would introduce an amendment exempting fire districts from the bill, which he supports. He is a volunteer firefighter in Great River.
However, other backers of the legislation, which was inspired by Newsday articles, wondered why the alarm was being raised.
“The fire districts should not be in fear . . . because consolidation would be voluntary, not mandatory,” said Rosalie Hanson, a Gordon Heights resident who is trying to dissolve the district there because of the very high tax rate. “If you are happy with your district, you’re not going to sign a petition.”
Bill supporters pointed to Gordon Heights as exemplifying the difficulty in collapsing governments, which total 10,521 statewide. Gordon Heights residents are now making a second attempt to abolish the fire district.
Cuomo has said school districts were excluded from the bill because there already is a consolidation mechanism for them and since the 1930s thousands have been dissolved.
Firefighters have created a Facebook page with more than 1,500 members and are telephoning and e-mailing lawmakers.
Craig Craft, immediate past president of the Association of Fire Districts of Nassau County, said, “We will take every step to combat this bill. We see it as an attack.”
Cuomo aide John Milgrim shot back that “numerous productive meetings” had been held since late 2008 with affected groups who helped “shape” the bill, “and the office continues to meet with interested groups as the legislation heads to a vote.”