O’Mara and Palmesano: Trying To Get Laws Passed To Help Volunteer Firefighters

April 29, 2017

As local volunteer fire departments across the region host Open Houses this weekend as part of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York’s (FASNY) annual “RecruitNY” campaign,
State Senator Tom O’Mara (R, Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R, Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R, Big Flats) said today that they are continuing to sponsor legislation aimed at helping localities recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and other emergency services personnel.

The area lawmakers continue to sponsor the “Omnibus Emergency Services Volunteer Incentive Act” (S.1994/A.4389), which they have introduced for the past several years, as part of ongoing state-level efforts led by FASNY and others to keep drawing attention to a challenge that many believe poses a property tax crisis in waiting and other crises for many rural, upstate communities.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We have to keep sounding the alarm on this volunteer recruitment and retention challenge, and we have to keep seeking solutions. This legislation helps us keep the challenge in front of the Legislature. Incentives are not the only answer, but they can be an effective part of a broader response to a threat to one of the mainstays of many upstate, rural communities. The volunteer fire department has anchored so many of our communities for so long, and this crisis is real. It’s a property tax crisis in waiting. It endangers the
safety and security of cities, towns and villages throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide.”

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano say that their legislation would:

> provide a $400 state income tax credit for volunteer firefighters and
ambulance workers who have been active for four or more consecutive years;

> exempt motor vehicles owned and used in the performance of duty by an
emergency services volunteer from motor vehicle registration fees and
vehicle use taxes;

> authorize local volunteer fire and ambulance companies to use
state-administered funds, collected annually through a two-percent fire
insurance premium tax on out-of-state insurers, to help offset the cost of
health insurance for their members; and

— direct the state Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) to create
a volunteer recruitment service college loan forgiveness program.

A 2016 FASNY study, “Tax Savings and Economic Value of Volunteer
Firefighters in New York,” found that the state’s 100,000 volunteer
firefighters save taxpayers more than $3 billion annually. Specific
findings include that:

> an additional 30,822 career firefighters would be necessary to convert to
an all-paid service statewide;

> the annual cost of an all-career service would be $3.87 billion;

> there would be a one-time cost of $5.95 billion to acquire existing
stations/structures, vehicles and equipment — approximately 1,300 stations
would have to be built new or reconstructed; and

> property taxes statewide would rise between 3.3% and 123%, with an
average increase of 26.5%.