BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Erie County Legislature is proposing a new law to keep more money in the pockets of first responders.
The local law would provide a 10% property tax exemption for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers in the county. This is a program was launched by New York State and counties need to opt into it.
The goal is to reward and encourage the selfless act of volunteerism, according to the proposed legislation.
“We are seeing volunteerism on the decline. Again, everybody is struggling with recruitment. Not just fire companies, but fire companies are ones that clearly we all depend on for our own safety,” Chris Green, legislator representing District 6, told News 4.
To qualify, Erie County residents must be certified members of a volunteer fire company, department or ambulance services for a minimum of two years. Their property needs to be their primary residents and located in the district they serve in.
“It shows that in Erie County it is no surprise that there is a shortage of volunteer firefighters and when you gotta ask someone to work two jobs, that’s pretty taxing, taking time away from their families,” Jim Doerfler of the Williamsville Volunteer Fire Department said.
Legislators and fire fighters agree that this can recruit and retain volunteers. This bipartisan proposal is sponsored by all 11 legislators.
“I think it’s a great idea. I mean they talked about their challenges of retention and getting new firefighters. These men and women put their lives on the line everyday. We see about it. Any way they can be compensated for it, I am all for it,” Tim Meyers, majority leader for the Erie County Legislature, added.
Legislators still say more needs to be done to retain these first responders, but firefighters who spoke during the public comment portion of Thursday night’s meeting say it is an important step forward.
“Any benefits provided to the volunteers that are serving is grateful and able to assist those firefighters with families, multiple jobs, and the demands on day-to-day life,” John Buttino of the Amherst Volunteer Fire Department, said.
The Erie County Legislature will then vote on the proposal. Sources close to the matter say that vote will likely happen next week.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.