Suit Challenges Fire District’s Budget Increase

A tax increase that more than doubled the budget of a fire district in New York, is being challenged by four taxpayers who claim the district failed to comply with the law. Crystal Myers, Beth Salisbury, Eric Pappa and Vicki Parvese filed suit against the Richland Fire District in Oswego County Supreme Court.

The complaint contends that the fire district approved a budget for 2024 in the amount of $180,000. The 2023 budget was $86,375. While New York law does not prohibit such budget increases, it requires several extra procedural steps be done for increases that exceed 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is higher.  When making increases over the statutory cap, the district was supposed to notify the New York State Comptroller in advance, notify taxpayers of the proposed increase, prepare a resolution to support the increase, and get a 60% taxpayer vote in favor of the increase.

The suit alleges the fire district did none of that, and that as a result the increase is illegal. The suit is asking the court to issue an order prohibiting the district from spending the $93,625 increase, and requiring the funds be put into an interest-bearing account until a further determination can be made. Here is a link to the laws in question: New York Consolidated Laws, Town Law – TWN § 181. Annual budget and levy of taxes and General Municipal (GMU) CHAPTER 24, ARTICLE 2, SECTION 3-C Limit upon real property tax levies by local governments.

Our colleague Brad Pinsky represents the fire district and provided the following comment:

  • The Statute does not offer a private right of action to any citizen. Instead, the statute provides the State Comptroller with a remedy to investigate. Therefore, we will be arguing that the Petition should be dismissed as no taxpayer has a private right to commence a lawsuit. Standing is a critical issue to any case, and is typically the first issue to be considered by a court. We do not believe that the taxpayers have standing to commence this action.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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