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Norwich approves increase in tax breaks for volunteer firefighters

Norwich — Volunteer firefighters who meet active service requirements will see their property tax break doubled after the City Council on Monday approved ordinance changes raising the abatement from the current maximum of $1,000 to $1,500 this year and to $2,000 starting next July.

The council voted unanimously to raise the tax abatement following a public hearing. Alderwoman Stacy Gould, a 15-year volunteer firefighter for the East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department, voted for the ordinance.

Gould said she considered seriously whether she should vote on the measure and consulted with Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll. The abatement is available to all qualified volunteer firefighters, Gould said, however, she has not qualified for several years in part due to her commitments as an alderwoman.

The change in the ordinance allows volunteer firefighters and volunteer fire police serving in the city’s five volunteer fire districts who meet call response criteria to receive a property tax break of up to $1,500 for taxes due this year and up to $2,000 on their property taxes starting with the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The fire chief in each of the five volunteer departments must submit a list of qualified members no later than March 1 of each year. Firefighters or fire police must respond to at least 20% of calls per year to qualify.

Firefighters who meet the minimum service requirements but whose total tax bills are lower than $1,000 receive partial abatements for up to their total bills.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, who sponsored the revised ordinance, said the General Assembly last year authorized cities and towns that offer tax abatements for volunteer firefighters to raise the abatement amount, set at $1,000 about 25 years ago. Nystrom said the city had been considering the increase before COVID-19 hit, and the issue was shelved while city officials dealt with the pandemic response.

According to a report to the City Council by city Comptroller Josh Pothier, 98 volunteer firefighters or police currently receive property tax breaks under the ordinance, with 54 receiving the full $1,000 abatement, totaling $54,000, and another 44 receiving lower abatements totaling $13,000.

If those numbers remain the same, Pothier reported the first-year increase would bring the total to $81,000 for full abatements, rising to $108,000 in the 2021-22 fiscal year. The lower abatements would remain the same at $13,000, Pothier reported.

Only taxpayers who live in the volunteer fire districts, called the Town Consolidated District, would cover the cost of the volunteer firefighter abatement. Pothier said the increase would add 0.02 mills to volunteer property taxes the first year, and 0.04 mills starting in the second year. A house in the TCD assessed at $97,400 would see the tax bill increase by $2 the first year and $4 in future years based on the current tax rate, Pothier said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects information on firefighters receiving lower abatement totals if their tax bills are less than the maximum allowed.

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