Knox grants 10-percent tax exemption to its first responders 

Enterprise file photo
The Knox Volunteer Fire Department responds to a house fire in the town. The Knox Town Board voted this week to implement a 10-percent tax exemption for volunteer first-responders in the town.

KNOX — Volunteer first-responders in Knox will receive a 10-percent town property tax exemption. 

The town board voted on the exemption 4-to-0 on Feb. 14 — with Councilman Ken Saddlemire abstaining because he’s a volunteer firefighter — two months after New York State adopted legislation that allows tax authorities like towns and schools to offer a 10-percent exemption to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers as a way of showing gratitude, while also improving recruitment and retention of volunteers.

Volunteers become eligible once they’ve served between two and five years, depending on what the tax authority decides. The Knox Town Board opted for the minimum two-year threshold. 

“It’s quite a service these guys perform, really, and there’s very little recognition,” Supervisor Russ Pokorny, who volunteered for the Knox Volunteer Fire Department for 23 years, told The Enterprise this week. 

Taking his own home’s value as a rough standard, Pokorny, who used to be the town’s assessor, said he expects the average exemption to come to around $25. 

Assuming the number of volunteers gets as high as 50 — up from around 30, currently — in the town of just over 2,500 people, Pokorny said that the remaining 1,000 or so non-exempt households would only need to cover a $1,250 difference — or around $1.25 per household per year.

At the meeting, Pokorny said that, even if there are 100 volunteers, the overall burden for other taxpayers is negligible. 

Justin Maxwell, the town’s current assessor, agreed with Pokorny’s speculation at the meeting, after Pokorny had asked him to weigh in. 

“I think you spoke the truth,” he said, adding that he felt the decision was a “no-brainer.”

“It’s just a little bit of encouragement, that’s all,” Pokorny told The Enterprise. “Some recognition of their value.”

Councilman Dennis Cyr questioned at the meeting what the local fire department requires of its volunteers, with Saddlemire explaining that just joining entails 137 hours of training, along with ongoing attendance requirements. 

“It’s very hard to keep people,” Saddlemire said. 

In addition to requiring only two years of service for the exemption to take effect, the town board also opted to make the exemption permanent once 20 years of service is reached, and to extend the exemption to volunteers’ widows. 

Maxwell said that he wasn’t sure what exactly volunteers would need to do to get the exemption, but that there’s “definitely an application, definitely paperwork,” and that the due date is March 1 each year. 

He said he didn’t understand the timing of the law on the state’s part, but that Knox volunteers could theoretically get their exemption right away if they were to get “in contact with me and ask for the paperwork and get it to me before March 1.” 

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