Proposal Would Give Firefighters Property Tax Break

Volunteer firefighters may be given a break on property taxes.

Chautauqua County Emergency Services Director Noel Guttman recently spoke with members of the county Legislature’s Public Safety and Audit and Control committees about a proposal for property tax exemption for volunteer firefighters.

Guttman said the state changed the law to allow local, county and school districts to give a 10% discount to volunteer firefighters for their property taxes. The legislation is written so that someone will have to have served either two or five years in a fire department before being eligible. Municipalities can also give a lifetime discount for those who have 20 years of service.

Individuals who seek the discount will need to meet certain criteria.

“The law has given a lot authority to the local jurisdictions to help determine what an active firefighter is. It also goes to volunteer ambulance service people. … It’s not just someone whose been on a list 40 years ago and shows up to a meeting once a month,” Guttman said.

The legislation, he explained, is to help bolster volunteer fire departments with both recruitment and retention.

“As we know, one of the biggest problems in the county, the state, and probably the nation, is finding and keeping active firefighters and EMTs (emergency medical technicians),” said Guttman.

Guttman said he supports the legislation.

“I think this is something that will have a very good impact for our firefighters in the county and potentially help with recruitment and retention to keep them there,” he said.

County attorney Patrick Slagle said this legislation will be similar to the exemption offered to veterans.

Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Ellery, said it appears to him that towns, villages, cities, counties and schools have the option to participate or not.

Guttman estimates that between 2,000 and 2,500 people in the county volunteer with their local fire department. “I don’t know if it would have a great impact, but it would have an impact on those firefighters getting that benefit,” he said.

Legislator Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, said he supports the proposal.

“I think that giving our firefighters a little bone like this is good,” he said.

Pavlock noted that volunteer firefighters get a $200 rebate on their federal and state income taxes. “That’s been one of my pitches to senators over the last few years is to say, ‘Hey, help these guys and ladies out somehow.’ … I think this is an answer to that,” he said.

Pavlock said even though they may lose a little bit of revenue, they could gain some more volunteers, which actually will help with the county’s Fly Car system.

“It’s hard to forecast all of that, but the program, I’m in support of it,” he said.

No final decisions were made. Guttman and Slagle said they would get more information and bring it to the committees in the future.


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