The New York State Court of Appeals refused to hear the village’s appeal over whether the village board’s May 2 decision to eliminate eight career firefighters as as cost-cutting measure is subject to a permissive referendum.
The state Supreme Court ruled at the end of August that it was subject to a referendum. The village appealed to the state appellate court and argued that the board’s decision isn’t subject to a referendum because the paid firefighters are supplemental and not considered to be the Fire Department in the village code.
The state appellate court disagreed and upheld the Supreme Court’s decision.
“There’s no question that Port Chester residents have and had the right to vote on this decision to abolish the paid fire department,” said Richard Corenthal, the attorney representing the paid Port Chester firefighters. “The village tried to deny the residents that right.”
Mayor Dennis Pilla did not return requests for comment.
The legal battle stems from the village board’s decision to eliminate the paid firefighters on May 2 as part of a budget cut that village officials say will save an estimated $800,000. The Fire Department has 150 interior-trained volunteers, and 150 exterior-trained volunteers, according to village officials.
Throughout May, the eight career firefighters who lost their jobs collected signatures to force a referendum on the elimination of the paid firefighters.
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.
In the beginning of June, the firefighters submitted an inches-thick petition with more than 4,300 signatures. All but five of the signatures were thrown out by a technicality raised by three village trustees.
Trustees Bart Didden, Gene Ceccarelli and Frank Ferrara each wrote a letter to the court saying the election districts weren’t included in the petition. The state appellate court upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling that voided nearly all of the signatures.
Corenthal said they refiled the petition with the election districts a couple weeks ago, but said the village returned them without explanation.