CITY OF JOHNSTOWN — Without fanfare, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional tax break for volunteer firefighters and EMS workers on Monday.
The move will allow emergency helpers serving at least five years where they live to receive a 10% discount on county property taxes.
It’s expected to first go on the county tax rolls in 2024.
Leading up to a final vote, county lawmakers questioned the proposal’s substance, convinced it didn’t go far enough to supplement recruitment efforts amid a national shortage in volunteer assistance.
Some of the parameters are bound under state law.
Gov. Kathy Hochul late last year removed a $3,000 assessment value cap attached to the existing 10% discount for volunteers who are homeowners.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott Horton, supervisor of Caroga, wishes that lawmakers nixed the residency requirement and focused on attracting younger recruits. Without enthusiasm, he advocated for the tax break’s passage.
“My personal opinion on this is it’s very poor [state] legislation that was brought down,” said Horton. “It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly what it ought to be.”
Stratford Supervisor Richard Fogarty was the sole opposition vote, favoring a two-year membership requirement.
Potential modifications within county jurisdiction are expected to be ironed out through the board’s public safety committee within the next two months.
“The five years and 10% is not very much,” said Fifth Ward Gloversville Supervisor Gregory Young. “It’s a good start for the committee [to] sharpen the pencils and make revisions to this local law.”
Allicia Rice of the Stratford Volunteer Fire Department told the board that the state’s current benefits, including a $200 income tax credit, do little to cover the cost of traveling to call sites. She believes that expanding the current credit would be a step in the right direction in order to attract young, non-homeowners.
She urged the board to lower the membership length for eligibility to two years. County Attorney Jason Brott recommended that lawmakers vote on the language as it stands and introduce amendments later on, if needed.
“I will keep doing this as long as I can, but I’m getting a little old for this,” said the 72-year-old Rice, “and I’m not the only one. We need those young people.
New York has 20,000 fewer volunteer firefighters than 20 years ago, while the number of emergency calls has incrementally increased.
Generational time constraints and depopulation likely play a role in the deficit within Fulton County, according to county EMS coordinator Mark Souza.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.