A pair of fire districts on Fire Island this week became the first special taxing districts in New York State to consolidate about a year after a state law simplifying such efforts went into effect.
Only a handful of attendees witnessed the small but historic measure when the Lonelyville Fire District dissolved into the Fair Harbor Fire District after both boards unanimously voted in favor of merging Sunday. The lack of opposition from residents in either seasonal seaside community was remarkable compared to the resistance against special district consolidation efforts on mainland Long Island.
“I found it ridiculous, absurd and totally inefficient to have three fire districts in an area the size of Lonelyville, Dunewood and Fair Harbor,” said Forrest Clock, head of the former Lonelyville board of fire commissioners and the driving force behind the effort, which takes effect next week. In the future, Lonelyville residents will pay their fire district taxes to the Town of Islip, which will transfer the funds to Fair Harbor.
The fire district taxes fund the operations of the Fair Harbor Fire Department, whose firefighters and chiefs live in and protect all three communities. There are about 565 homes between the three hamlets: 390 in Fair Harbor and about 90 each in Dunewood and Lonelyville.
Those hamlets fall within an about one-mile-long sliver of the 32-mile-long barrier beach, home to a total of 17 communities, most of which have their own fire districts and departments. Clock added that Lonelyville has only 19 registered voters, half of whom are involved in the district, making fire district elections difficult.
The unprecedented consolidation was also notable for the fact that two noncontiguous areas now fall under the Fair Harbor district umbrella. Dunewood, which lies between Loneyville and Fair Harbor, decided against consolidating.
Even more extraordinary is that the proposal originated from the Lonelyville fire commissioners and not the public, which undoubtedly hastened its approval. Seasoned advocates who twice petitioned for a referendum to consolidate the Gordon Heights Fire District—home of the highest fire taxes on LI—applauded the move.
“This is a proud moment for the residents of the Gordon Heights Fire Districts,” said Rosalie Hanson, whose efforts helped inspire the special district consolidation law. “It feels like there’s hope for Long Island.”
Hanson is awaiting Town of Brookhaven to decide on its plan for Gordon Heights after reviewing a study that was commissioned followed two petition drives and years of efforts to deal with the high fire taxes there.
Previously, the only consolidation efforts that have been considered under the new law were in a handful of upstate New York villages.
Tax bill savings for Lonelyville are expected to be minimal since the fire district commissioners served as volunteers and administrative costs are relatively small.
Brett Roberts, head of the Fair Harbor district, welcomed Lonelyville residents into the district and expressed relief that the process was complete.