Other Votes Tuesday

Across New York State, fire commissioners are elected on the second Tuesday in December. Five commissioners on each of the boards oversee the firefighters and emergency medical service personnel in their districts, and elections are coming up in Montauk, Amagansett, Springs, and Bridgehampton, which all serve residents in East Hampton Town. However, few people show up to vote except in rare cases where there are heated races or big-ticket items, such as proposed real estate deals or firehouse renovations. There are no fire commissioners in the villages of East Hampton and Sag Harbor, where elected trustees oversee the Fire Departments. 

Uncontested elections last year saw between 24 and 59 votes cast. Blame low voter turnout on voter apathy or that these elections are held on dreary December nights amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, who knows. What is certain is that more people should pay attention to boards, which handle what are arguably the most important public services residents receive and so many tax dollars.  

Because the commissioners construct the budgets for how your tax dollars are spent in their districts, candidates for commissioner should have business acumen and a working knowledge of fire and emergency services, whether they are members of their district’s departments or not. It has been encouraging in recent years to see commissioners loosen the reins and institute much needed paid paramedic programs to supplement a stressed volunteer emergency medical system. More big decisions lie ahead as paid programs evolve.

Only two districts in East Hampton Town have contested races this year, but voter turnout is important nonetheless. The five commissioners on each board are elected to staggered five-year terms. Don’t like what they are doing? It would take a long time to vote them all out of office and start fresh. 

Show your fire districts that you are watching and that you care what’s going on at your firehouse. Like town or school board members, the commissioners are elected officials who work for — and should be answerable to — the community. Voting on Tuesday is one way to reinforce this.