ANCRAM—Qualifying volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who live in and serve the Town of Ancram are now by law eligible for a real property tax exemption of up to 10% of the assessed value of real property they own.
Following a public hearing on Local Law #1 of 2023 at the February 16 Town Board meeting, a majority of board members voted to adopt the new tax exemption law which was authorized by the state in December.
During discussion on the new law after it was introduced by Supervisor Art Bassin at the January 19 Town Board meeting, Councilmember and Ancram Fire Chief David Boice said the new law will be a good step to help out with Ancram’s volunteer fire organization. The currently in place Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) is similar to a retirement program and is designed to retain and reward firefighters for their service to the community.
Mr. Boice said while LOSAP assists current and future firefighters it doesn’t help past firefighters, but the new tax exemption will in some cases.
He expressed concern that because the Ancram Fire Company has a large number of husbands and wives serving as firefighters, the new law does not recognize the full membership. He said married couples often own the same property and they would not receive two exemptions, just one. He said other familial relationships are also not recognized.
Mr. Boice said the new law is “a good tool to retain members but not a huge step to recruiting new members,” which Ancram, like most fire companies in Columbia County, needs to do.
He went on to quote from Governor Kathy Hochul’s recent State of the State address about volunteer firefighters. The speech noted that volunteer fire departments serve nine million New Yorkers or half the state’s population. “In recent years more than three quarters of the departments that serve these nine million people have reported a decrease in the number of individuals willing to volunteer and serve. At the same time there has been a significant increase of 29% in the number of calls these people are responding to.”
The largest factor contributing to the increase in calls is mutual aid. Because of the decrease in the number of volunteers, mutual aid calls have increased in New York by 151% between 2000 and 2020. In the rest of the nation it has only gone up 61%, according to the speech.
The situation has caused a significant strain on the resources and personnel from both volunteer and career fire companies throughout the state.
“People are not beating down our doors to become firefighters.”
— Ancram Town Councilmember and Fire Chief David Boice
Mr. Boice said to boost recruitment and retention, the governor proposed legislation to allow communities to pay modest compensation (a stipend) for eligible firefighters per call and to create a state fund to pay for training.
Mr. Boice said he thinks these are things the Town Board should consider. He supported the enactment of the new property tax exemption law but said the board should look for other ways to encourage new recruits. He said “people are not beating down our doors to become firefighters.” He said training to become a new firefighter “is really kind of unbearable.”
Councilmember Amy Gold agreed more needs to be done. Councilmember Bonnie Hundt said anything Mr. Boice can bring to the board to discuss, she would be happy to and noted that she is “so appreciative of the firefighters and what they do.”
The new law grants a property tax exemption of 10% for qualifying volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance workers and qualifying un-remarried spouses of deceased firefighters. Qualifications of volunteer firefighters and un-remarried spouses of deceased firefighters eligible for this property tax exemption will be certified by the Ancram Fire District Board of Commissioners.
Qualifying persons must be certified by the fire company or ambulance squad and have a minimum of two years of service; live in the Town of Ancram; and the property must be the primary residence of the individual and used exclusively for residential purposes.
At the February 16 meeting during the public hearing, Mr. Boice said the fire district is working on determining who is eligible for the property tax deduction which will additionally be voted on by school districts and the county. He estimated that less than one third of the fire company membership will be eligible.
He noted the fire district’s concern that the new bill might be like a firefighter’s cancer insurance bill that was passed several years ago that did not cover the three most prevalent cancers that firefighters get. “That it’s more of a feel good operation than of really trying to help us out.”
He said of the new law, “every little piece helps us and we want to take advantage of every little piece and try and make it work.”
Later in the meeting, all board members voted in favor of the new law except for Mr. Boice who recused himself.
The law in its entirety may be viewed on the Ancram website at www.ancramny.org
To contact Diane Valden email