CORTLANDT, N.Y. - Cortlandt's lightly attended and often uncontested fire district elections are Tuesday. These special districts levy taxes independent of town government, account for as much as 5 percent of taxpayers' bills and receive little attention from the media or public.
"Overall, apathy is a problem, even in other elections. It's unfortunate but people are busy, not interested, don't have time, for whatever reason," said Cortlandt Town Clerk JoAnn Dyckman, who receives fire district election canvasses every year. "How much attention people pay to their tax bill is of course individual," but special districts are "spelled out" in their tax bill, she added.
A patchwork of fire districts provides protection to unincorporated Cortlandt, as in much of Westchester County, such as the Verplanck Fire District pays for the Verplanck Fire Department.
Fire districts' also are subject to New York's 2 percent property tax cap, which can be overridden through a three-fifths vote of the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Less than 50 people voted in each of Cortlandt's 2011 fire district elections. Split between Yorktown and Cortlandt, Lake Mohegan Fire District is by far the largest district with a $7.3 million budget. The Montrose Fire District's 2013 budget is $861,054, and the Verplanck Fire District's 2013 budget is $584,000.
Glenn Welch, secretary for the Verplanck Fire District, said voter turnout may be low because "in our case and in Montrose, what you get is a district without a major impact on the taxes."
In the Verplanck Fire District, Jerry Dyckman is running uncontested for his fourth, five-year term as commissioner. Welch said if there were more competition, it might spur voting.
In the hamlet of Verplanck, there are 1,300 registered voters, 23 voted last year for the uncontested, five-year term of David Smythe. These numbers represent registered voters in Verplanck's two election districts. However, fire district boundaries are not necessarily contingent with election districts, so it's difficult to estimate how many eligible voters there are in Verplanck's upcoming commissioner election. Eligible voters can vote at the Verplanck Firehouse, 238 8th St., from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Lake Mohegan had slightly better turnout in 2011, when David Zugner won his seat as a fire commissioner in an uncontested race. He received 45 votes. Lake Mohegan has the only contested election this year. The expiring five-year term is held by Jim Seymour. Seymour is opposed for re-election by Billy Grexa. Residents in the Lake Mohegan district can vote from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Valley Fire Station, 500 Lee Blvd.
In 2011, of the three districts, Montrose had the worst voter turnout. Only 17 voters re-elected Robert Lockwood to office for another five-year term. This year, John Jackson is running for re-election unopposed. Eligible voters can vote at the Montrose Firehouse, 2143 Albany Post Road, Montrose, between 6 and 9 p.m.