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Feb 18, 2009 12:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village will skip study on fire district

Feb 18, 2009 12:22 PM

Southampton Village will not hire a consultant to determine the feasibility of consolidating its fire department with the Southampton Fire District because its fire department leaders refuse to support the idea, saying they prefer to answer to the Village Board, not the new board of fire commissioners that would be created after a merger.

Regardless, the current fire district commissioners say they will go ahead with a study of their own that will consider the pros and cons of consolidation and leaving fire department operations as they are.

Meanwhile, the fire service contract between the village and fire district is set to expire at the end of the year and village officials said they are poised to begin a major renovation or replacement of their Hampton Road firehouse—with or without the fire district agreeing to share the as yet undetermined cost.

Both the Village Board and fire district’s Board of Commissioners agree that a new firehouse is long overdue. What they have not agreed on is where it should be and how it will be financed.

The village owns the Southampton Fire Department and the Village Board oversees its operations. But the fire district, which covers Tuckahoe, Shinnecock Hills, Water Mill and the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, does not have its own fire department and contracts with Southampton Village for fire protection, agreeing to split the cost of running the fire department.

The ratio of that split has been a point of contention between the two sides since the fire district was established in 2003.

The fire commissioners, meanwhile, are promoting a consolidation plan that would dissolve the current protection district and create a new one that would include both the former district and Southampton Village. The fire department would then be under the new fire district’s control, rather than the Village Board.

Board members and a majority of firefighters say they want to see things stay as they are now structured.

The Southampton Village fire chiefs’ council met last week and voted unanimously against supporting a consolidation study.

“Basically, the fire department said, ‘We’re not playing the game. What you’re trying to study doesn’t want to be studied,’” Village Mayor Mark Epley announced at the Village Board’s meeting last week.

“The membership of this department likes its current situation,” Fire Chief Roy Wines IV said this week. Still, the fire department will cooperate with any study the district does. “Everything that we have is public record, so we would cooperate in any way that is necessary,” he said.

Mayor Epley said the village should still conduct a study of its own to examine the fire department’s future needs, including the purchase of new trucks and the building of a new firehouse.

Village Board member Paul Robinson, who supervises the fire department, told the mayor that the department already has those plans and an outside consultant will have little to add.

“Nobody knows the area better than we know the area,” Chief Wines agreed.

As an alternative to a study, Mayor Epley said he would like to see all of the fire department’s long-term plans put together into one package. That way, whoever serves as mayor in the future can view the objectives in one document.

One long-term plan the department has been bristling over is a new main firehouse to replace its aging headquarters on Windmill Lane. Mr. Robinson indicated that the department, for the time being, is prepared to settle for an upgrade to its Hampton Road substation, which does not currently meet occupational safety standards.

Mayor Epley said he could not ask village taxpayers to pay for a brand new firehouse in this economy without the support of the fire district. He said he would like to see a plan that both addresses the safety issues and has a reasonable price tag.

“You come back to me with an economical plan,” he said. “Don’t give me a Taj Mahal.”

The mayor said he would like to spread the cost over 20 years by issuing a bond, which would require voter approval. A bond referendum could be put on the village ballot in June this year, or next year, if plans for a firehouse are not ready in time.

“We could, in a practical term, shoot for this June,” Mr. Robinson said, but he added that it is important to get feedback from the community first before placing such a proposition on the ballot.

The village might hold the referendum without the fire commissioners signing off on the new firehouse. In that case, the village would run the risk of having to pay for the entire cost of the new house, with no assistance from the district.

Mayor Epley said the village could try to include a clause calling for splitting the cost of the new firehouse in the new contract with the fire district, but he is unsure whether the district would have to agree to it.

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I'm confused
By typical (63), southampton on Feb 18, 09 11:18 PM
@typical: The Inc.Village of Southampton owns all the SFD fire equipment and houses. Town of Southampton taxpayers pay the Village to have SFD protect areas outside of the village (ie County Rd 39, Shinnecock Hills, Water mIll). About 6 years ago the Town Board created the "Fire Protection District" because they didn't want to negotiate the contracts. What's funny is if you look at http://www.town.southampton.ny.us/DeptDirectorygallery/TaxReceiver/TaxRate2008_2009.pdf the Fire District collected ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Feb 19, 09 1:52 PM
continued... The Fire Protection District will collect $1,526,746 on the current tax rate sheet. But again 1.25 million for fire protection is too much. They still will collect $250,000 more than what will be paid for protection. If saving the taxpayer money is the argument for hardline negotiations, maybe we should start by charging the taxpayer what fore protection actually costs.
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Feb 19, 09 1:58 PM
now i understand, thank you, yes I agree Linda needs to go, resigning would be a better idea, my 4yr old could run the town better then her
By typical (63), southampton on Feb 20, 09 10:52 PM