WATERLOO — It’s no secret that recruiting volunteer firefighters has become increasingly difficult.
In an effort to prompt interest, especially among younger people, state Sen. Pam Helming, R-54 of Canandaigua, is sponsoring a bill that would allow municipalities the option of giving volunteers firefighters a 10% reduction in their property assessment, thus reducing their property tax burden.
Linda Zwick, vice president of the Canoga Fire Department in Fayette, asked the Seneca County Board of Supervisors to support Helming’s bill at the board’s March 8 meeting.
“Our numbers are dwindling and the work is getting harder for the older firefighters to do,” Zwick said. “We’re hoping many more younger people join, and we feel this bill might help recruit more volunteer firefighters.”
Zwick noted that support for the bill has come from the Monroe and Cayuga County legislatures. Zwick urged the board to join those counties in sending a resolution of support for the home-rule bill.
“We have 11 volunteer fire departments in this county. They are very dedicated firefighters who give of themselves at all hours, even during the Covid pandemic,” Zwick said. “We need help. Recruitment is key or we may disappear, and you’d be looking at paid firefighters.”
Zwick predicted the 10% assessment break would not have a significant impact on other property owners’ taxes. She said there are seven weeks left in the current legislative session, and support from local governments is crucial.
Board member Bob Shipley, R-Waterloo, agreed. He said he is a longtime member of the Border City Fire Department and agreed there is a shortage of volunteers.
“I believe about 50% of those in a fire department show up on calls, and they seem to be the same ones every time. Their hearts are in it,” Zwick said. “They have to undergo the same training as paid firefighters. Your support would mean a lot.”
Jeff Trout, R-Fayette, said if it wasn’t for volunteers from the Mennonite community, fire departments in Fayette would be struggling to get enough people to respond to a call. He noted that a paid fire department would increase taxes.
Board chairman Bob Hayssen, R-Varick, said the issue of support for the Helming bill will go before the board’s Public Safety Committee March 22.