St. James Fire District to Hold Referendum on Tax Hike for Renovations

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The St. James Fire District Board of Commissioners announced that a communitywide capital bond referendum vote will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 3-9 p.m. Voting will take place at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse, located at 221 Jefferson Ave. For residents who reside within Election District 79, voting will take place at the Fairfield in St. James. The referendum is on a proposed plan to renovate the fire house on Jefferson Ave.

The cost of the proposed plan is $12.25 million. According to the board of commissioners, and based on current market conditions, for a home with an assessed value of $3,000, the estimated increase in fire district taxes would be approximately $118 a year. For a home assessed at $4,000, the project equates to an annual increase of $158, while a home assessed at $5,000 would see an increase of approximately $198 a year.

“While we are mindful of any increase in fire district taxes to our community, we believe this plan is fiscally responsible,” said Montrose. “If we do not consolidate our services and merely renovate the existing Jefferson Avenue facility, it would cost us an estimated $10.6 million. The safety issues present with the property layout would still exist. For $1.6 million more, we are able to construct an entirely new, 21st century structure that will allow us to serve the community in the best way possible for decades to come.”

This referendum comes as a result of several years of research and planning to determine how to best serve the community now and into the future, given the vast infrastructural needs and safety hazards that are present at both firehouses in the district. The vote would be a decision to exceed the tax cap of 2 percent of what is allowed by New York State.

“To put it simply, the way our fire district is currently operating is no longer the most efficient or safe way to serve the residents of our community,” said Lawrence Montrose, chairman of the board of fire commissioners. “Our district’s current configuration presents safety challenges for our volunteers who put their lives at risk to keep our community safe. It is our duty to keep them safe as well.”

The firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A was built in 1922; the last major renovation was completed almost 50 years ago. The antiquated building can no longer house the majority of the district’s fire trucks or engines, according to the commissioners. The location of the facility also presents significant safety challenges, given the volume of traffic at the intersection.

“Traffic volumes and speeds in front of the firehouse have increased greatly over the years,” said Montrose. “Not only does this hamper our response time when the truck at that location must respond, but it threatens the safety of our volunteers and those passing by at the time of a call.”

The district’s second firehouse, located on Jefferson Avenue, also has a number of significant infrastructural challenges. The firehouse suffered a flood last August, rendering sections of the building nearly useless to volunteers and forcing the district to operate out of a temporary structure on the property. Following the flood, engineer and architect reviews of the facility revealed that the building has numerous structural issues, some of which existed prior to the flooding. In addition, the layout of the Jefferson Avenue property presents other safety challenges for volunteers, according to commissioners.

“Our volunteers ‘gear up’ in one building but must cross the parking lot to board the trucks in another building,” said Montrose. “At the same time, other volunteers are entering the parking lot, creating a major safety issue.”

The proposed plan calls for the consolidation of all fire services through the construction of a new facility on the existing Jefferson Avenue property. The building would feature spaces that could be converted into accommodations for members and the community during storms or other major emergencies, and would also house a meeting room for department meetings and community use. The proposed building would fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and take traffic flow into account for emergency responses. Additionally, through green spaces and design, the new facility would protect the neighborhood feel of the current property and remain unobtrusive to surrounding homes.

The district will host a public information hearing about the proposed plan on Tuesday, Aug. 29, from 7-9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse, located at 221 Jefferson Ave. The district will also host open houses on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 14, from 7-9 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 17, from 1-3 p.m., all at the Jefferson Avenue location.

Information on the proposed project will be sent to all homes within the district and posted to the district’s website, www.stjamesfd.org.

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