Volunteer firefighters and ambulance corps members who live and own property in Putnam County, New York, are now eligible for a property tax exemption of up to 10 percent of the assessed value of their home.
New York Gov. George Pataki signed the tax exemption bill into law Sept. 23, which had been proposed by members of the Putnam Legislature in 1998.
Emergency responders now will be eligible to receive up to a $3,000 reduction off their assessments on county and town tax bills. The provisions of the law give towns the option of adopting the tax exemption.
State Senator Vincent Leibell, who introduced the measure along with Assemblyman Willis Stephens, said the new law will serve as an incentive to attract new members to the volunteer firefighting and EMS fields. "Putnam's fire and ambulance personnel provide an invaluable service to our communities. This legislation allows us to recognize their dedication and hard work," he said.
Assemblyman Stephens said the shortage of qualified firefighters and EMS staff was becoming more and more of a problem in New York's fastest growing county. "By enacting the new law, Putnam communities will now be able to attract and retain qualified volunteer emergency services personnel in order to maintain effective emergency protection," he said.
Former Mahopac Fire Department Chief Ed Scott praised the state for its proactive legislation. "Any kind of an incentive that volunteer emergency responders can get to remain in our communities will keep us volunteering forever," he said.
Putnam Legislator Arne Nordstrom, who is a member of the Lake Carmel Fire Department, called it "extremely difficult to attract people into the volunteer emergency services field today. This tax reduction will serve as a plus to bring in new blood while helping to retain what we currently have."
Legislator Sam Oliverio, the lone Democrat on the nine-member Putnam Legislature, praised not only Sen. Leibell and Assemblyman Stephens but Gov. Pataki as well for the legislation. "This has nothing to do with politics. Whatever we can do to attract volunteers to Putnam's emergency services must be done. Volunteers are the backbone of the emergency services field in Putnam County," he said.
Legislator Terry Intrary of Kent agreed. "This is a small price to pay for volunteers who are very difficult to come by in today's complex economic times. Most people work two jobs and when the fire horn sounds, it's getting more and more difficult to muster a crew. Hopefully, this bill will entice new people to join their local fire department or ambulance corps while renewing the faith of the old-timers who have served their communities proudly for decades," he said.
Sen. Leibell said the new law was a tool that would make the jobs of Putnam's volunteers somewhat easier.