The eight career firefighters who lost their jobs when the village shifted to an all-volunteer fire department handed the village clerk an inches-thick petition to force a referendum on the abolishment of the paid fire department.
Vinny Lyons, president of Port Chester’s firefighters union, said the 485-page petition submitted to the village Wednesday morning contains 4,354 signatures, nearly double the amount required by New York State village law.
“It shows we have support from the citizens of Port Chester,” Lyons said. “Now we’ll wait and see what happens.”
The village board eliminated the paid firefighter department on May 2 in a cost-cutting move that village officials say will save an estimated $800,000. The department has 150 interior-trained volunteers, and 150 exterior-trained volunteers, according to village officials.
Village officials have said the board’s decision is not subject to a referendum because the paid firefighters are supplemental and not considered to be the fire department in the village code. The official village fire department according to the village charter, Mayor Dennis Pilla said, is the combined seven volunteer companies.
“I certainly don’t want to disrespect anyone who signed the petitions, but New York State is very specific about what can and cannot be brought to a referendum,” Pilla said. “It’s my understanding that this matter of the eight supplemental, career firefighters doesn’t meet the criteria.”
Richard Corenthal, the attorney representing the paid Port Chester firefighters, disagreed and referred to Section 10-1020 of New York State Village Law, which states, “The board of trustees of any village may, by resolution, abolish, in whole or in part, the fire department in such village, which action of the board of trustees shall be subject to a permissive referendum as defined in this chapter.”
To establish the referendum, Corenthal said the law requires the firefighters to get signatures from 20 percent of registered voters as of the previous general election.
There were 11,491 eligible voters in the village in the previous general election, Corenthal said, so the firefighters needed at least 2,299 signatures.