By CHRIS EBERHART
Eastchester’s fire election is less than a week away—Dec. 10—and the candidates’ views on the district’s health insurance collection oversight are a microcosm of their platforms.
Retired firefighters haven’t been billed for their families’ premiums by the fire district or the New York State Health Insurance Program for the past 12 years, according to Dennis Winter, chairman of the Eastchester Board of Fire Commissioners, and now the town’s fire district is billing 26 affected retirees to recover approximately $800,000 that was lost.
It is the latest controversy for a fire district that has been marked by a long list of missteps and questionable management decisions.
The discovery was made in September by Chief Michael Grogan when he was researching the New York State Health Insurance Program bill trying to reconcile the bill to the retired members. Fire commissioner candidate and Bronxville resident Peter Incledon, who said Winter endorsed him and encouraged him to run, said the current board did a good job uncovering the oversight and taking the necessary steps to fix the problem.
But current Fire Commissioner and Eastchester resident Richard Steigelman, who is seeking re-election after serving his first five-year term, criticized the board—and Winter in particular—for allowing the oversight to happen.
“Winter was the chair of financial for the last eight years before he was chairman of the board, and I don’t know why he didn’t catch [the oversight] after all these years,” said Steigelman, a small business owner.
Incledon’s compliment to the current Board of Fire Commissioners extended beyond catching the health-insurance-error. He said they’ve also done a good job managing the district’s money and improving the overall health of the department.
“The board has made significant strides in the last few years,” said Incledon, a retiree of Bear Stearns and JP Morgan. “Things are improving—budget-wise and the relationship with the department—and I want to help continue the progress.”
While Incledon says he wants to continue the board’s progress, Steigelman says the board is in disarray and doesn’t like the direction it is going.
“I want to straighten out the fire district,” Steigelman said. “Right now, we’re not in good standing. There’s the lack of going after the retirees that didn’t pay into their pensions. The chief, himself, owes money for not being certified as an EMT, and [Fire Commissioner Jerry] Napolitano and Winter want to forget about that, so the taxpayers are paying for a certified EMT when he’s not.”
The fire commissioners are responsible for a $16.7 million budget, which is larger than Bronxville and Tuckahoe’s village budgets, which are $14.3 million and $11 million respectively, that directly affects the Town of Eastchester and the villages of Bronxville and Tuckahoe’s property tax. .
The annual budget is created by the five fire commissioners and cannot be altered by the Eastchester’s municipal government.
Both candidates said they are aware of the impact the fire budget has on the taxpayers and believe their financial backgrounds will help keep costs down when it comes to constructing the budget.
Despite the significant size of the fire budget, Winter said voter turnout for fire elections is typically low. He said, in a good year, about 1,600 voters come to the polls to vote.
But that may all change.
Winter attributes part of the low voter turnout to the December voting date, which will be moved to November for next year’s election to bring it in line with the general election after New York State recently passed a law moving the date in June.
Winter said he drafted a bill asking for the voting date to be moved to November for the past three years. The bill died in the Senate twice before state Democrats Amy Paulin and George Latimer pushed the bill through this year.
This year’s election will be held on Dec. 10 with voting booths open between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Election polling stations:
Eastchester Town Hall
40 Mill Road
(Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 37, 38, 39)
LeRoy Gregory Post #979
40 Bell Road
(Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 23, 27, 29, 34, 36)
Union Corners Fire Station
10 Oregon Ave.
(Districts 15, 31, 35)
Tuckahoe Community Center
71 Columbus Ave.
(Districts 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 32, 33)
Bronxville Village Hall
200 Pondfield Road
(Districts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)