CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Voters will have a choice on Tuesday of two candidates who are vying for a seat on the Board of Fire Commissioners for New Castle Fire District No. 1, which is the entity that oversees the Chappaqua Fire Department.
The candidates are longtime incumbent Anthony Oliveri, who is running for another 5-year term, and challenger Emily Haft Bloom.
Oliveri has served on the board for about two decades and has been an active firefighter for more than three decades. He also serves as treasurer of the J.I.D. Bristol Engine Company, which is one of the companies under the fire department's umbrella. Professionally, Oliveri runs an accounting practice.
Bloom, who has lived in the community for 22 years, is an active firefighter. She also serves as secretary for the the Chappaqua Independent Fire Co. and helped to rewrite department bylaws.
Professionally, Bloom runs a college advisory service; she assisted more than 60 local high school students during the most recent admissions round.
The candidates are running amid two notable issues in town. The first, and largest in scale, is the fire district's plans for building an addition onto its main firehouse, which is located at the intersection of Routes 117 and 120, as a way to consolidate services.
Chris Weddle, who is the board's interim chair but clarified that he was speaking only on his behalf, told Daily Voice that the fire district is in contract to purchase the Chappaqua Animal Hospital property next door for roughly $1.6 million. The project would entail demolishing the hospital structure and using the land to construct an addition to the existing firehouse. While addition plans have yet to be finalized, a potential for a 3-bay drive-through is being contemplated. An addition is being considered, Weddle explained, because newer firetrucks are being built larger than older ones, which leaves less room to fit in the building's older bays.
If an addition is built onto the main firehouse, Weddle added, the district will also consolidate its operations by moving its smaller trucks and fitness center from its smaller firehouse on Senter Street. The intent is to then sell the Senter Street firehouse.
The project, Weddle said, will be subject to an environmental review, and requires approvals from the New Castle Planning Board and the public through a referendum. The intent is to pay for the work with bonding, Weddle added.
Oliveri, in a voting statement that he published, noted the importance of the project.
"The District must ensure that its members are professionally and adequately trained, outfitted and insured."
Bloom cited larger truck size, as well as the lack of space in case the fire department has to switch to being paid in the future, as factors behind a firehouse addition. However, she sharply criticized the commissioners on transparency, arguing that residents are being left in the dark about the project.
"How can the residents ask questions about this expansion if they are unaware that elements are already in place, like the hiring of an architect and planner? How will the residents feel when they are asked for millions of dollars and have not been kept up to speed on the process with which this decision was made?"
Going forward, Bloom suggested proactive communication measures, including an online newsletter, signage at the downtown Chappaqua triangle and an information session before a referendum.
Oliveri defended its role in a voting message, noting that it posts meeting minutes and has complied with state law. Going forward, he voiced support for publishing more information for the public, getting a standalone website for the district and installing an LED display sign by the main firehouse.
The candidates also differ on the recent appointment of Nancy Zezze, the district's secretary, to fill the commissioner's seat left vacant by the death of Gerry Golub.
Bloom argued that the appointment is a conflict of interest and noted the Zezze will hold both positions.
"It smacks of cronyism, plain and simple."
Oliveri defended Zezze's appointment, noting that it is legal and citing her experience.
"It takes 12 to 18 months to learn the job and at this point we needed someone with experience," he wrote. "Nancy has been Secretary longer than any of the current board members including myself. her institutional knowledge."
Zezze will recuse herself when the board votes on funding her secretary position, Weddle said. He noted that the dual arrangement has precedent in the district.
Weddled also noted that Oliveri's wife serves as the district's treasurer and that he recuses himself on votes pertaining to her role. Additionally, he is required to disclose their relationship in a formal annual notice.
Voting for the commissioner seat will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 8 and will be at the main firehouse.
The district covers southern and central parts of New Castle. Residents who are unsure about which district they live in can do a search here.
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