Central New York towns could soon have the option to pay volunteer firefighters to help recruit new members pending the approval of Governor Kathy Hochul’s state budget proposal.
The budget proposal outlines three options to assist volunteer departments to cope with the issue, with each town having the right to decide if they will participate. The first option offers a 10% property tax break for volunteer firefighters, pending approval by each county.
The second option offers new recruits a nearly $1,000 stipend for each of their first three training courses, funded by New York State, which will also need to be approved in the budget.
The third option, also pending budget approval, allows towns to pay their volunteer firefighters up to 20% of what a career firefighter earns.
To ensure these changes, the state is working to change the definition of “volunteer” in the law that governs firefighter benefits.
However, some technicalities still need to be addressed, including how mutual aid calls and volunteer departments serving different towns will be affected by the pay.
Commissioner Bray acknowledged the need for a solution, stating that although some towns could buy apparatus and construct great firehouses, they were not allowed to use their resources to address the need for more people.
State budget hearings will continue for the rest of the month, with the budget taking effect on April 1st.
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