St. James residents have spoken: The iconic Route 25A firehouse will remain firmly in the hands of the taxpayers.
The taxpayers of the St. James Fire District voted down the June 19 public referendum which would have sold the fire station to St. James Fire Department for $500,000 by 792-498 votes.
“The St. James Fire District Board of Commissioners thanks all residents who voted in today’s referendum,” said Commissioner Ed Springer, Sr. in a statement Tuesday night. “The board will reconvene and discuss its next steps for the future of the Route 25A firehouse and use of its space.”
St. James resident Troy Rosasco, founder of Citizens for a Safer St. James, led roughly a dozen residents in a rally against the sale of the historic fire station June 16. Citizens alongside local firefighters took up positions on the triangular grassy median at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A bearing signs that read, “We must protect this house, vote no,” and other slogans.
June 19 referendum results
792 “no” votes
498 “yes” votes
1,290 total ballots cast
“The people of St. James have once again overwhelmingly said they want to maintain control of the main firehouse,” Rosasco said, whose home is in the Village of Head of the Harbor. “We all own the main firehouse and want to continue to see it as a working firehouse for the foreseeable future so that both St. James and Head of the Harbor are adequately protected.”
Suffolk County police said that they received several 911 calls at approximately 10:20 a.m. Saturday reporting the picketers were impeding vehicular traffic. A patrol unit was dispatched to the scene where officers said they did not observe any protestors impacting traffic and advised the group they could continue as long as they did not disturb traffic flow.
Many rally attendees said they were distrustful of what fate might befall the Route 25A firehouse if entrusted to the hands of the St. James Volunteer Fire Department — a nonprofit organization representing approximately 100 volunteers for fire and emergency response services.
“It’s an organization of private individuals,” Augie Cocuzza, a resident of Fairfield at St. James apartment complex said. “They could do whatever they want with it.”
St. James firefighters launched a public campaign encouraging citizens to vote “yes” June 19 to put the firehouse back into the hands of its volunteer members.
“It is imperative,” said Kevin Barattini, a fire department spokesman.
In a public Facebook statement made June 15, the group had promised to protect the building if the sale went through, by amending its organizational constitution.
“People need to realize this firehouse isn’t going anywhere, it will always remain a firehouse,” Barattini said.”
The spokesman said the department was concerned about misinformation and “blatant lies” circulating prior to the vote. He said firemen reported hearing that the sale would allegedly lead to an increase in taxes or that the building would later be sold for profit to CVS or another business — an option he said hasn’t been entertained in years.
“Prior to selling it to the fire district in 2013, the fire department heard pitches from other entities including CVS but those talks were stopped after 2011,” Barattini said. “That’s seven years ago, people in the
community have to let that go.”
The St. James Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment immediately following the June 19 referendum.
The district had purchased the building from the volunteer fire department in 2013 with the original intentions of operating it as a fire station in addition to the Jefferson Avenue substation and make necessary
repairs. Since then, two proposed capital bond referendums have failed — the first in 2013 and the second request for $12.25 million in September 2017.
The outcome of the June 19 referendum closely resembles the polling totals of the September 2017 capital bond vote. There was a slight increase in ballots cast, up from 1,234 votes to 1,290 votes, but the split of residents’ opinions remains relatively unchanged — a small increase from 775 to 792 against, and from 459 votes to 498 votes for.
St. James resident John Rowan, who resides on Jefferson Avenue, said it was clear to him what the point of friction is.
“My biggest thing is they don’t bring the community to the table to discuss this,” he said. “Even though they say they have, they never have.”
Rowan attended the May 30 public forum held at Smithtown High School East about the June 19 referendum, where he said fire commissioners restricted public questions and comments to two minutes per person, stifling the community’s discussion of the issues. He recommended that in the future, St. James fire commissioners host a town-hall-style meeting to listen to what residents have to say on the future of the Route 25A firehouse.
“That’s all they needed to do,” Rowan said. “It could easily be a win-win situation for everyone.”