Massena tax preparer offers advice on 10% volunteer responder tax exemption

Feb. 27—MASSENA — A Massena tax preparer had some words of advice during Monday's town board public hearing on the 10% tax exemption for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.

Charles E. McGrath said the volunteers should look at the better option — a $200 refundable tax credit from the state or a 10% tax exemption on the assessed value of their home from local governments and the school district.

He said individuals qualify for the tax credit if they are an active volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker and are a resident of the state. However, they cannot claim the credit if they receive a real property tax exemption that relates to their volunteer service. So, he said, before the volunteers file paperwork for the local tax exemption, they need to consider if they would be better off financially with that or the state's tax credit.

"I see you guys are aware that the state gives you a $200 refundable tax credit on your New York state tax return. But, let's just say for instance, the village gave you guys 10%. But, if you sign up for that, you lose the $200 on your New York state," he said. "If the whole community backs this, the town the village and the school, I'm certain that will be the $200 that New York state refunds to the firemen. But, if you don't pay school taxes, if your taxes are really low, you really need to think about signing up for this type of exemption before you know what the dollars are because this is about the money."

Mr. McGrath said he supported the tax exemption and wanted to ensure that the volunteers got the best financial deal.

"I think it's a good thing you guys are contemplating this, but it's about those guys saving money. If they can't save money, then don't sign up and take the $200. If you can save money, then make sure that on your tax return you say that, 'Yes, I got a real property tax exemption and so I don't qualify for this credit,'" he said.

The town board could not take action following Monday's public hearing because town attorney Eric J. Gustafson said they first need to enact a local law.

"The local law needs to be in the board's hands at least seven days prior to adoption. So, they're not in a position to be able to legally adopt it today, but they will be at the March board meeting," he said.

The village board has already approved the exemption, the Massena Central School Board of Education will consider it during its March meeting, and Massena Volunteer Fire Department First Assistant Chief Thomas C. Miller said he has asked St. Lawrence County legislators to consider it.

"Charlie's right. I've done a lot more homework on it and there's going to be a couple of people that will not even make $200 even if all four entities do it — the county, the town, the school and the village. But, still, it's going to help the majority of our department," Mr. Miller said.

He said the impact on town taxpayers would be minimal.

"It's very nil and it's great to have a tool like this for our volunteers that serve this community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," he said.

Mr. Miller said he wants to ask the state legislators to keep both the tax exemption and tax credit.

"I don't understand why the state can't do something also because we're losing volunteers throughout the state, not just here in Massena and in this county. So, why can't we do both? I don't know why they couldn't pass a law saying they could get both the $200 tax credit and a tax exemption. There's no reason they can't in my opinion," he said.