Schenectady County weighing expanded tax exemption for volunteer firefighters, ambulance workers

A man speaks outside at a microphone with six people behind him

In this March 2022 file photo, Anthony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature, speaks during a press conference at the Schenectady County Unified Communications Center on Hamburg Street in Schenectady. The Schenectady County Unified Communications Center serves as a centralized emergency and public safety dispatch center. 

Article Audio:

SCHENECTADY — Some members of local volunteer fire and ambulance companies residing in Schenectady County may soon qualify for an enhanced property tax exemption.

The Schenectady County Legislature on Tuesday introduced legislation that would grant volunteer fire department and ambulance service workers with at least two years of service a 10% break on their county home tax bill, greatly expanding a tax exemption that has been in place for volunteer first responders for years.

The move comes after Gov. Kathy Hochul approved legislation late last year allowing municipalities to provide the exemption. The law also requires local governments already providing tax exemptions for volunteer first responders — including Schenectady County — to conform to the new standards within three years.

Currently, volunteer first responders with five years of service residing in Schenectady County qualify for a 10% tax exemption on their county tax bill for up to $3,000 of assessed home value, or apply for a $200 tax credit through the state.

Under the updated law, volunteers with two years of service would qualify for a 10% off the total assessed value of their primary residence. The exemption is not automatic: volunteers would need to apply on an annual basis.

But the law does automatically grant the exemption to volunteers with 20 years of service so long as their place of residence does not change. Unremarried spouses of volunteers killed in the line of duty with at least five years of service would also be afford the exemption, according to the proposed law.

The tax break would not impact county finances. Like other tax exemptions, including those for veterans, the exempted total would be distributed equally among other taxpayers in the county.

A public hearing on the proposed law is set to take place March 6 at the Schenectady County office building at 612 State St., Schenectady beginning at 7 p.m.

Several other municipalities throughout the region are considering adopting the same ordinance, including Clifton Park. 

The exemption comes as volunteer fire departments and ambulance divisions struggle to recruit workers, inhibiting response times and forcing some municipalities to create special taxing districts in a bid to attract workers with benefits and salaries.

Small, rural communities have often been impacted the greatest, including several in the Warren County area like Lake George and Chester, which have approved special EMS taxing districts in hopes of addressing the issue.

In Schenectady County, a majority of municipalities rely on volunteer fire departments, including Duanesburg, Glenville, Niskayuna and Rotterdam. The city of Schenectady and the village of Scotia have paid fire departments.

Thomas Constantine, a District 3 legislator who chairs the county’s Public Safety & Firefighting Committee, said expanding the tax exemption is not only the right thing to do, but will help departments recruit volunteers.

“Departments are having a harder time staffing volunteers for services our communities vitally depend on,” he said. “Expanding this property tax exemption to the maximum allowable not only shows our appreciation for our volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers, it also gives our volunteer departments more tools to recruit and retain members.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.

Categories: News, Rotterdam, Schenectady, Schenectady County, Scotia Glenville, Your Niskayuna

One Comment

Leave a Reply