DELMAR — Should Bethlehem Central decide to provide partial property tax exemptions to volunteer emergency responders, policymakers have just one month to take action before the March 1 deadline approaches.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation last December, allowing local governments an opt-in for all to provide a partial property tax exemption to volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers. The measure provides an exemption of up to 10 percent of the assessed value of the primary residence of volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.
If approved by the Board of Education, qualified volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers in the district would be required to apply for the exemption by March 1. Within that window of time, board members would have to adopt a resolution. That allows volunteer entities to submit lists of eligible emergency responders to the assessor’s office, and for those individuals to complete exemption applications.
BC Chief Business & Financial Officer John McPhillips estimates more than 200 volunteers would apply for the exemption. Prior to last month’s public hearing on the matter, he calculated how future tax bills would appear if those volunteers opted to reduce their home property’s assessed value.
“So, you know, do a little bit of math here. The actual impact in terms of assessed value that would be exempt, which is roughly $5.6 million, and you sort of see what the property tax savings would be for volunteers in the Town of Bethlehem and the Town of New Scotland,” McPhillips said.
Based on current tax rates and assuming a property assessed at $250,000, McPhillips estimated a tax savings of $531.67 for a Bethlehem volunteer and $564.47 for the same in New Scotland.
For residents who are not volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers, they could see about $0.04 more for every $1,000. Under the same assumptions, a Bethlehem resident would see a $9.20 increase in his or her annual bill, while a New Scotland resident would see a $10.38 increase.
The measure was signed into law to help communities attract and retain volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. Elsmere Fire Commissioner Joe Catalano was one of several volunteers who spoke in favor of it, following McPhillips’ presentation in January. The commissioner said a tax break would attract new members and alleviate a “May Day” staffing scenario.
According to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, fewer residents are volunteering to join fire companies. In 2021, it reported approximately 80,000 volunteers across the state. In the early 2000s, there were around 120,000.
“The world has changed today. We don’t have people. [They] just don’t have the discretionary time that they used to,” Catalano said. “So anytime we get a tool like this, this is a true blessing to us and we’re again asking for your support. We hope you’re the first school district in the area to adopt and pass this resolution and we really believe that this would be a great benefit to the residents of the Town of Bethlehem.”
The district is expected to discuss the matter when it meets again tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 1.