Fire chiefs want to boost tax breaks for volunteers

In an effort to attract new volunteers and preserve its current membership, the fire department is proposing to increase tax abatements for its membership.

“Volunteerism is a dying breed right now, and we are trying to figure out how to maintain it here in Jamestown,” said James Bryer, fire chief.

The proposed program was presented to the town council at its Nov. 7 meeting. Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians currently receive an annual tax abatement of $700. Under the proposed three-tiered system, volunteers would receive an abatement of $1,000 for 1-9 years of service, $1,500 for 10-19 years of service and $2,000 for 20 or more years of service.

“Maintaining volunteers is as important as getting them,” Bryer said. “Demographics of Jamestown are changing. It’s not a young community anymore.”

The years of service is dependent on whether the volunteer is a “member in good standing.” For firefighters, they must participate in 24 weekly training sessions and respond to a minimum of 20 percent of fire incidents in the previous year to be considered in good standing. For emergency medical technicians, they must participate in 24 weekly training sessions and work at least 40 shifts in the previous year.

Members at least 55 years old who retire after July 2022 with 25 years of good-standing service would qualify for the $2,000 abatement for life. That benefit is transferable to a surviving spouse until they die or re-marry. For members without property, a cash equivalent would be offered.

“We are trying to keep people longer,” Bryer said. “Maybe bring some members back.”

As for incentives, the department currently has a total annual outlay of $75,000 for members who meet their good-standing marks. How much each member gets, however, depends on the number of qualified members.

Under the proposed incentive program, firefighters would receive $25 for every responded call with an additional $12.50 per hour for calls over two hours. For EMTs, they would be compensated $7.50 per six-hour shift with drivers earning $4 per shift. They also would receive $25 per call in addition to their shift incentive. These incentives would be paid quarterly.

The incentive program has not been updated since 2009, and Councilman Erik Brine called “it a great idea.” The program, he said, is economical because it hasn’t even grown to meet inflation.

“We need to do more to incentivize folks to be on the fire department,” he said. “When things get really bad and the bridges close, it’s a lot harder to get here by boat. And when things are that bad, nobody is coming by boat. So, I’d really like to have some of the folks who work here, live here.”