Firefighter tax abatement ordinance moves forward

Firefighter tax abatement ordinance moves forward

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The Middlefield Board of Selectmen last month moved forward in adopting a tax ordinance amendment for volunteer firefighters to receive a tax abatement in retirement.

Each selectman expressed full support of the tax abatement during a May 21 board meeting and public hearing.

The ordinance has been worked on for months by town officials and members of the fire company. 

“I support this bill fully ... it's a no-brainer, essentially,” said selectman David Burgess.

The ordinance proposal will go to a town meeting for resident approval before it goes into affect. 

Fire Chief Peter Tyc said the town has always been supportive of the fire company, including when it approached the town about taking advantage of the tax abatement program, made possible recently by state statue.

“We're very fortunate, we've got some very good volunteers ... but it always helps to have the support and the backing of the boards,” said Tyc, who attended the May 21 public hearing.

Tyc said about nine members of the fire company are currently eligible for this abatement program.

The department has about 41 active volunteers at this time, according to Tyc. 

First Selectman Edward Bailey said, for the town, the financial implications of the ordinance would be “very minor.”

This new abatement would apply to inactive, retired members, and would give them a break on property and motor vehicle taxes.

State law also allows towns to give the abatement to volunteers with police and emergency medical departments, but Middlefield doesn't have either. 

Firefighters must meet certain qualifications to be eligible for the abatement, such as responding to a minimum of 25 percent of all emergency calls, and being active members for 25 years.

The ordinance also includes other requirements to qualify, including properly signing an attendance sheet on calls. 

It also says that if a member of the fire company dies “in the line of duty” then 50 percent of the tax obligation for a surviving spouse will be abated on the principal residence owned and occupied by the spouse as long as they are a resident. 

The Board of Selectmen made a few revisions to the ordinance on May 21, including adding a deadline for when the certified list of members applying for the abatement would need to be received by the tax assessor and collector.

As suggested by Tax Collector Anne Olszewski, a deadline of May 1 was set.

A second revision, brought up by Tyc, allowed the abatement to apply to any inactive, retired firefighter with a tax obligation in town, regardless of if they are a resident. 

Tyc sees the new abatement program as a way to attract new members but, even more so, to retain them.

It costs about $7,000 to get a new member fully trained, so any effort to prolong a person’s service is helpful, Tyc said. 

A handful of community members attended the May 21 public hearing, along with some volunteer firefighters. 

Resident Mary Johnson said she is in favor of the ordinance amendment.  

“We should do as much as we can to support our fire and first responders and this is an excellent way for the town to give them something back as well,” Johnson said. 

Active and special members of the Middlefield Fire Company who reside in town currently receive a property tax abatement – capped at $1,000 – which would continue.
Twitter: @baileyfaywright