N.Y. county passes 10% property tax break for volunteer fire, EMS members
Niagara County law will also give the tax break for life to members with 20 years of service to help increase recruitment and retention
By Rob Creenan
NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. — Niagara is the latest county to provide property tax breaks as a way of attracting volunteer firefighters and emergency service workers.
The county legislature approved a new law allowing a 10% property tax exemption on property owned by a member of a volunteer fire company, fire department or voluntary ambulance service, or spouse of a member, at its May session.
"Members of volunteer fire departments and ambulance corps provide valuable services to the people of Niagara County," the law states. "In order to be certified and recertified, such volunteers must undertake numerous hours of training on their own time and often their own expense."
State real property tax laws were amended in 2022 adding a provision allowing for the exemption to combat low volunteer first responder rates. Erie, Schenectady, Chautauqua, Greene, Nassau and St. Lawrence counties, along with many other municipalities statewide, have already adopted this exemption.
Such members are only eligible for this exemption if:
—They reside in the city, town or village served by such a service
—The property is the primary residence of the member
—The property is used exclusively for residential services. In the event any portion of the property is used for other purposes, that portion is subject to taxation.
—The member has been certified by the authority having jurisdiction for the incorporated fire company or ambulance service as an enrolled member for a period of five years of service.
—The member must file a certificate from their qualifying organization that they are an enrolled member.
Enrolled members who have accrued more than 20 years of service for their fire company or ambulance service will be granted this tax exemption for the remainder of their lives, as long as their primary residence is in the county. Spouses of volunteers who are deceased or were killed in the line of duty and have not remarried since are also eligible.
County Director of Real Property John Shoemaker said the amount these volunteers would pay depends on the equalization rate where they live and how much their home is assessed for. This would only affect county taxes, not other school or town taxes.
David Piwtorak, chief of Upper Mountain Fire Co., called the law worthwhile in an effort to increase the volunteer ranks. That company currently has 40 volunteers, with that number fluctuating year to year.
"Everybody has had a hard time (getting volunteers), it doesn't matter what organization," Piwtorak said. "People don't volunteer like they do years ago."
A public hearing for the law took place before the legislature's meeting and did not have any speakers.