Massena officials wisely made use of a new law offering a significant tax benefit to first-responders.
In December, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul signed Real Property Tax Law § 466-a, legislation enabling municipal governments to provide exemptions of up to 10% on the assessed valuation of the homes of volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers. The properties involved must be owned by and serve as the primary residences of the first-responders; they also must be part of the communities where the fire company or ambulance service is located.
The property must be used exclusively for residential purposes; otherwise, the exemption will be prorated if used for mixed purposes. The first-responders must have served in the local fire company or ambulance service for a minimum of two to five years as established by the municipal governments.
First-responders with at least 20 years of service may be offered a lifetime exemption as long as they maintain their primary residences in the counties they have served. Unremarried surviving spouses of eligible first-responders may retain the exemption if approved by the municipal governments.
Fire districts, municipalities and school districts need to opt-in to provide the real property tax exemption to volunteer first-responders. Taxing bodies must hold public hearings prior to enacting this law.
The Massena Village Board of Trustees approved a resolution to implement this measure during its Feb. 13 meeting. Board members held a public hearing that evening before they voted on the resolution.
“This is actually a 10% reduction in the assessed value of a house. So if my house is assessed for $200,000, my assessment will go down to $180,000. Then you pay your taxes based off that assessment,” Mayor Gregory M. Paquin said, according to a story published Feb. 14 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Is it going to be a big bill passed on to taxpayers? No, not a lot. … Hopefully the town, hopefully the school, hopefully the county pass laws. Again, we’re in a dire situation where we need volunteers. We’re very lucky to have two wonderful institutions filled with dedicated volunteers, and I just think this is the least we can do.”
Patrick H. Brady, superintendent of Massena Central School District, said he had planned to present information to members of the Board of Education at last week’s meeting for a future vote.
Thomas C. Miller, first assistant chief with the Massena Volunteer Fire Department, expressed his appreciation to members of the Village Board for offering this exemption. Miller said he hoped the new law will inspire retention and recruitment in the ranks of volunteer firefighters.
“We just want to say thank you for entertaining this,” he told Village Board members. “It’s absolutely a need. We are down in membership across the nation. We don’t have anybody knocking on our door, and our charter is not full. This is some way to retain, and there’s a recruitment issue. So thank you very much for considering this.”
Earlier this month, we argued on this page that measures need to be taken to recruit additional volunteer firefighters. They are the foundation of the fire service throughout New York.
In this state, 90.2% of all fire departments are volunteer while 3.9% are mostly volunteer. In addition, 4.2% are career fire departments while 1.7% are mostly career.
We commend state officials for providing this tool for municipal governments to attract new volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. Hopefully, more taxing bodies throughout Northern New York will pass resolutions offering the tax exemptions to first-responders in their areas.
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