East Lyme moving forward with tax abatement program for emergency volunteers
East Lyme — A tax abatement program to help recruit new emergency services volunteers and retain current volunteers with the Flanders Fire Department and Niantic Fire Department is moving forward.
The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of the ordinance to establish the program, with First Selectman Mark Nickerson saying it's the least the town could do for its volunteers.
"You're our best ambassadors to go out there and get more recruits," Nickerson told the fire chiefs after the board approved the ordinance. "Listen, this is just a token of our appreciation and how much we value you and your service to our town, so we do appreciate it and hopefully this shows it a little bit."
The ordinance states that East Lyme residents who are active, nonsalaried, state-certified firefighters, emergency medical technicians or emergency medical responders with the Flanders or Niantic Fire Departments and respond to at least 15 percent of eligible volunteer calls in a one-year period can receive up to a $1,000 tax credit.
Flanders Fire Chief William Rix said during Wednesday's public hearing on the ordinance that six people from the Flanders Fire Department currently would be eligible for the program. But another six people are on the cusp and would qualify if they put in the extra time; another five are active but don't have the certifications, and the program would push them to get the certifications, he said.
Niantic Fire Chief Stephen Wargo said he estimates 10 to 12 people with the Niantic Fire Department would qualify.
The proposal for the tax abatement program resulted from discussions among town officials and the fire chiefs on how to recruit and retain more volunteers, following a study completed last year on the town's fire and emergency services.
A decline in the number of volunteers is a national trend, as regulations have become stricter and also more people are working two jobs and have less time to volunteer, Rix said in a previous phone interview.
Nickerson said in a previous phone interview that volunteers save the town from hiring more paid staff.
During Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, Nickerson mentioned that the town's tax collector said residents who owe back taxes to the town can't receive the tax abatement.
Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy pointed out that people should not expect to see the program as an expenditure item in the town's budget but it will be reflected in tax revenue.
She also complimented the fire departments on their signs and online efforts to recruit volunteers.
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