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Town of Colonie proposing tax exemption to boost volunteer firefighter ranks

Colonie Town Supervisor Peter Crummey speaks alongside town volunteer firefighters at the Town of Colonie Municipal Training Center in Latham on October 11, 2023.
Alexander Babbie
Colonie Town Supervisor Peter Crummey speaks alongside town volunteer firefighters at the Town of Colonie Municipal Training Center in Latham on October 11, 2023.

With local volunteer fire departments struggling to maintain their ranks, the town of Colonie is proposing a tax cut to boost numbers.

Town Supervisor Peter Crummey says the shortage is especially clear during Fire Prevention Week.

“This local law will implement a Real Property Tax reduction of 10% of the assessed value of a firefighter’s residence in accordance with the recently adopted New York state Real Property Tax law Section 466-A,” Crummey said.

Speaking Wednesday at the Town of Colonie Municipal Training Center, Crummey said in order to be eligible, firefighters must have served at least two years in Colonie, reside in the town, and be a member of an incorporated volunteer company.

The Republican says recipients must reapply for the exemption annually.

Bill Schmitt is a fire investigator, formerly for the town of Colonie, with 48 years of service. He says with volunteerism on the decline, it’s time for new blood.

“I'm a homeowner, the target audience I would think is our people that are probably in the 25-to-45-year range,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt says exemptions add up.

“The tax offering by the town of Colonie is just one part of it. The school districts are offering tax rebates, and the fire districts as individual districts and the two villages would be doing the same,” Schmitt said.

While firefighters would need to apply for the exemption at the outset, Crummey says after 20 years of service, a firefighter would qualify for a lifetime exemption.

“And not only for the service member, but a surviving spouse will enjoy it as well, even if the servicemember had passed before the surviving spouse,” Crummey said.

Daniel Sullivan is chief of the West Albany Fire Department, one of 12 fire districts in the town.

“Things are getting harder and harder for people financially. So this, this takes a little burden off people, which I think helps us in the end. And for the firefighters that have been doing it, it's just another actual, you know, another extra benefit for them,” Sullivan said.

Other fire districts in Colonie include the village of Colonie, the Village of Menands, Shaker Road/Loudonville, Midway, Verdoy, Stanford Heights, Boght, Fuller Road, Latham, Maplewood, and Schuyler Heights.

Schmitt says the shortages add up.

“In our particular fire district, if we could get two or three firefighters, that'd be great. Town-wide, as many as we could possibly get at this point in time,” Schmitt said.

While in some towns emergency services are incorporated as part of fire departments, Colonie’s is a third-party service not included under the plan.

Sullivan also says his district’s numbers could use a boost.

“If we could have 12, 13 firefighters around in the daytime, would be great. You know what I mean? So in the evening, a lot of people are home. So I mean, we have good numbers in my department, we currently are doing well. But like I said, there's times that it's tough for you know, everybody's working or, you know, so it's up and down,” Sullivan said.

He says his department numbers 45 firefighters.

Sullivan adds while the exemption would be just for volunteer fire departments, there’s a larger shortage of first responders.

“Whether it be police officers, EMS, or fire, and that's whether it's career or volunteer, it seems to be a career that people aren't quick to jump into anymore,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says support from state government would be beneficial.

“When you first join, there's a lot of training involved. They're looking for some stipends. The state is looking into doing some stipends for people, because you are dedicating so much time. So for certain classes you take, you might get a stipend for whatever, I'm not sure numbers, $1,500, $2,000 for taking, you know, a 130-hour class.” Sullivan said.

Roger Boisvert is a 38-year volunteer with the Midway department.

“I'm a third generation, my grandfather was an assistant chief and a founding member of Midway, my father was a commissioner. I'm also an interior firefighter right now and a commissioner with the Midway Fire Department,” Boisvert said.

An interior firefighter is one who enters a blaze, in contrast with an exterior firefighter, who works from outside a building. At 62, Boisvert says the exemption won’t help him, but should his daughter enter the fire service:

“And then later on, at some time, she purchases a home within the town and stays within being a volunteer firefighter, that'll help her with the tax, you know, and taxes are getting up there in the town of Colonie, we're pretty good. But a lot of places are a little higher than the town is so it helps, you know, especially with income nowadays, and cost of living and all the things that go on throughout life,” Boisvert said.

More information about the proposed legislation can be found here.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.