SOUTHINGTON — Fire officials increased the reimbursement rate for volunteer firefighters and recommended increased tax breaks for them as well.
Volunteer firefighters receive reimbursement for each call they respond to. The current rates range from $7.20 to $7.90, depending on rank and will increase by 10 percent following last week’s unanimous Board of Fire Commissioners vote.
Nathan Wilson, board chairman, said the rate increase applies to all volunteers. A tier structure for reimbursement rates, based on the number of calls a volunteer responds to, was abandoned.
In 2016, the department switched from an hourly reimbursement rate to a per-call rate.
Wilson said the department has the funds to pay for the increased rates. Increasing volunteer reimbursement is within the authority of the fire board and doesn’t require approval from other town boards.
Southington has both volunteer and career firefighters.
The board also voted last week to recommend additional property tax benefits for volunteer firefighters.
A change in state law allows the town to increase the property tax abatement for volunteer firefighters from a maximum of $1,000 to $1,500. Wilson said there's support among board members for the change, but it needs approval by the Board of Finance and the Town Council as well.
Mike Bunko, a board member, said the tax abatement reduces a volunteer firefighter’s property taxes and is a “really nice incentive.”
While the reimbursement rate increase and tax abatements might not be enough to attract or retain a firefighter, they’re part of the board’s efforts to do so.
“Anything we can do to attract and retain volunteers is really a goal of the board,” Bunko said. Volunteer firefighter numbers have dropped in recent years, mirroring nationwide trends.