Guilderland grants tax exemption to volunteer first responders

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Guilderland volunteer firefighters like these will now be eligible for a town tax break.

GUILDERLAND — The town board here unanimously and enthusiastically on Tuesday passed its first local law of the year, granting a tax break to volunteer first responders.

Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill that allows local taxing jurisdictions to offer a property tax break to volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers.

The new Guilderland law grants an exemption of 10 percent on town taxes to active firefighters with two years of service; a volunteer with 20 years of active service gets a lifetime exemption. The law also grants exemptions for surviving spouses.

The March 21 meeting opened with a continuation of an earlier public hearing on the bill, which had been amended to have the fire departments rather than the town collect the needed data with the exception of Altamont where the village board is the authority.

Also, explained Supervisor Peter Barber, the original bill was amended to simply refer to the state law “because the law can change.”

Paul Miller of the North Bethlehem Fire Department spoke first at the hearing, citing data from the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, which said statewide municipalities save $100 million annually by having volunteers, rather than hired workers, fight fires.

Miller also cited the ever-increasing training requirements for volunteers, now at 320 hours, which he equated to eight weeks of full-time employment.

“This benefit,” he said of the tax break, “would help the recruitment and retention of the firefighters within the town of Guilderland.”

Miller also said he hoped both the town board and the school board would pass the exemption, which for most property owners in town “would be substantially over the $200.”

Currently, volunteer first responders can choose either a $200 federal income-tax benefit or the property tax exemption. Albany County has, like Guilderland, adopted the tax exemption for first responders.

“That’s probably still better,” Barber said of the $200 income tax break rather than the property tax exemption. “You can do your own math, do your own taxes,” he said, calling the town’s new las a step in the right direction and expressing his hope that the school and library would “follow the lead now.”

The biggest property taxes by far are for schools. The Guilderland School Board hasn’t discussed the matter since its Jan. 31 meeting when board member Judy Slack said that the business practices committee recommended waiting rather than moving ahead with a tax break for first responders.

“It’s a very hard decision as I think it is for everyone because we respect these people,” said Slack. “We honor their work because we wouldn’t be the type of community we are without them but, because our budget situation is very uncertain, it felt to all of us reluctantly that we would like to wait this time before we grant this exemption on their taxes.”

Councilwoman Rosemary Centi noted at the March 21 meeting that the $200 income-tax exemption hadn’t been increased in 23 years.

Scott Jill, a 20-year member of the Guilderland Fire Department, and former chief, told the board, “I want to recognize the commitment of countless volunteers who serve their community and this town …. They respond to calls at any time of day or night, regardless of the weather. They serve their community in a selfless manner, forgoing time with their families and very often without sleep. We’d be in a very difficult position without their willingness to serve our community and their neighbors.”

Jill called the law “a step in the right direction” that would “help us recruit and retain members to ensure the future safety of our community.”

The third and final speaker at the public hearing, Gerd Beckmann, a resident of Guilderland Center, said, “I implore the board to do the right thing … The ladies and gentlemen that act in a voluntary capacity on a day-to-day basis, 24/7, to provide safety and security to our families and our homes, has tremendous value.”

After the unanimous vote, Barber recognized the volunteer firefighters in the gallery and “the hundreds of other officers or firefighters who aren’t here this evening ….

“You’ve got family, you’ve got people that love you that worry about you every time you answer the call,” said Barber. “And so I want to recognize those families and those loved ones who are waiting for you to return …. I want to thank you for your service.”

His words were greeted with resounding applause throughout the hall, including from the dais.


Other business

In other business at its March 21 meeting, the Guilderland Town Board:

— Adopted a typical policy on standard work days with many at eight hours (for mechanics, the golf pro, the high highway superintendent, the police chief) and many others at seven hours (for the assessor, finance clerk, code-enforcement officer, and data-entry operator) with several at six hours (court attendant, part-time medical director, historian).

“This is the same year after year,” said Barber. “The only difference here is we added the town engineer because we now have a town engineer position.” The town engineer has an eight-hour work day;

— Approved these performers for the upcoming summer season at the Guilderland Performing Arts Center: Hair of the Dog on June 29 for $1,800, Hot Club of Saratoga on July 6 for $1,500, Big Fez and the Surfmatics on July 20 for $1,100, River of Dreams on July 27 for $1,600, Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys on Aug. 10 for $1,600, and Downtown Horns on Aug. 17 for $1,700.

Councilman Jacob Crawford said he loved seeing pictures of the newly remodeled performing arts center and suggested it would be a good venue, in the future, for plays “like what they do at Park Playhouse in the city.”

“We’ve had some groups approaching us about doing something along those lines,” said Barber; and

— Hired Tannor Carr as a part-time custodial worker, filling a vacant post, at the union salary of $15.97 per hour. “Tannor was one of only three applicants who applied after we posted this position for 4 weeks on the Town’s website, the Town’s Facebook, and through a Town email blast and distribution to all Town departments,” said a memo to Barber from Kaitlyn Craig, personnel assistant.

Barber said he’d met Carr who is “off to a good start.”

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