Lawmakers in New York State are pushing for millions of dollars in additional funding to be included in the state’s next budget to help volunteer fire departments. This bipartisan effort is aimed at rescuing these vital organizations, which have been struggling due to new federal and state regulations requiring expensive upgrades to equipment and facilities.
Last month, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed a $10 million fund to provide stipends to volunteer firefighters who complete training as an incentive for younger volunteers. However, members of the Senate and Assembly are pushing for even more funding, with the Senate proposing a $50 million capital fund for volunteer fire services and the Assembly asking for a $10 million investment.
According to John D’Alessandro, secretary with the Firefighter’s Association of the State of New York, a combination of the ideas proposed by lawmakers and the governor would be the best solution. “Great ideas are a good start, but we need to bring things across the finish line so they have direct impact at the grassroots level in our towns and our villages,” D’Alessandro said at the state Capitol.
In addition to increased funding, the Senate is also proposing to quadruple the tax credit for volunteer firefighters and EMS to $800 and allow them to receive a 10% property tax exemption. Currently, state law prohibits volunteers from collecting both simultaneously.
New York’s volunteer firefighters save taxpayers about $3.8 billion per year in salaries and benefits, according to a FASNY economic analysis released this week. However, the state would need 31,000 more career firefighters across the state to switch to an all-paid system, with a total annual cost of $4.7 billion. About 1,500 fire stations would also have to be rebuilt or reconstructed to create that kind of system, which FASNY estimates would cost more than $8 billion.
The final state budget is due on April 1, and negotiations are ongoing. Lawmakers and advocates are hoping that increased funding for volunteer fire departments will be included in the final budget to ensure that these vital organizations can continue to serve their communities.
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