BATAVIA — County emergency response leaders will find out where local tax entities stand to offer volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers their property tax breaks.
“Our county Department of Emergency Management will be reaching out to local municipalities and school districts to gauge the level of interest in enforcing the exemption,” said District Manager Matt Landers. Office of Emergency Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger and Deputy Coordinator Gary Patnode will then appear before the Means and Means Committee in the future to discuss their findings, Landers said Tuesday.
The state Department of Taxation and Finance said the new law gives municipalities, school districts, and fire districts across the state the option of granting voluntary firefighters and ambulance workers an exemption of up to 10% property tax. Any exceptions will only apply to properties used exclusively as residences. If part of the volunteer’s property is used for other purposes, the exclusions will be prorated accordingly.
To qualify, volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers must live in the communities served by their volunteer organizations and meet minimum service requirements of between two and five years, as established by their respective taxation jurisdictions, the state said. Additionally, local entities may decide to grant lifetime exemption to volunteers with a minimum of 20 years of service as long as they maintain their primary place of residence in the area they have served. Taxation jurisdictions may also allow the surviving unmarried spouse of eligible volunteers to maintain the exemption.
Genesee County Deputy Treasurer and Real Property Tax Service (RPTS) Director Kevin Andrews told a Public Services Committee meeting Monday that if the county adopts an exemption, it will only apply to county taxes. Every city, village, school district must adopt it for exemption to apply the tax that the group collects.
Andrews said he took an estimate of the number of volunteers in the county of 585, the number of emergency medical services being provided.
“I took that, took the average residential valuation of all the properties in the area, assuming that we offer the full 10%, based on our current tax rate,” he said. When he does, he gets an average savings of $134 for each volunteer who chooses to accept the exemption.
“It’s just an average, because if their possessions were more valuable… they would earn more. If their property is worth less, they will earn less,” said Andrews. “If someone rents, they won’t qualify.”
Andrews said to be eligible for an exemption, a volunteer must meet these criteria.
“Each municipality that adopts an exemption can set parameters for how they determine who counts as a volunteer or not,” said the deputy treasurer.
Committee member Chad Klotzbach said he supported the incentive.
“What do we incentivize? That’s the only question,” he said.
The committee was told that if a volunteer takes a property tax credit, he or she cannot claim a $200 firefighter and ambulance worker volunteer income tax credit ($400 for co-taxpayers filing a marriage in which both spouses qualify).
“That’s part of looking at the analysis,” Andrews said. On average, he says, volunteers who receive an area exemption won’t necessarily get enough tax breaks to make the exemption worthwhile.
If someone owns a higher-value home, it might be worth taking out the property tax exemption, says Andrews.
With the exception of the regions, the estimated increase in the tax rate, if each volunteer applied for and received an exemption, would be 2 cents. That means the average resident will pay an additional $3.30 in taxes per year.
Committee member Marianne Clattenburg asked what costs would be passed on to other taxpayers if volunteer fire or ambulance services took the property tax exemption.
“I am very concerned about this change in fees. Because, we help each other. I will speak for the townspeople again, because we pay a high price for professional firefighting services, which is what we want in the city of Batavia,” he said. “This exemption will be passed on to already overburdened city dwellers.”
Andrews says if an estimated 585 volunteers take exceptions, multiplying that by the average savings of $134 will yield a change in costs of about $78,000.
Clattenburg said if the county would talk about using excess sales tax or other sources of revenue to deal with cost changes, he would support offering the exemption. He said he did not want the fee to be shifted to other taxpayers.
On Tuesday, Landers said that while it would be up to individual municipalities and school districts whether to grant exemptions, it made sense for everyone to stay in touch.
“The exemption really only becomes effective when multiple cities and school districts coordinate to jointly provide for the exemption,” he said.
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