Council eyes changes to tax breaks for volunteer firefighters

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PROSPECT — Town officials hope increasing tax breaks will help attract and retain more firefighters for the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department.

Currently, firefighters who have been with the department for two years receive a $200 tax break. The tax abatement increases to $400 for those who have volunteered for four years, $600 for six years of service, and $1,000 for 10 years or more of service.

Volunteer firefighters have to be in good standing with the department to receive a tax break.

The Town Council last week unanimously approved amending the ordinance that governs the tax abatements to offer a $750 break after two years of service and a $1,500 tax break after five years.

Council Chairman Jeff Slapikas said it’s becoming more difficult to attract volunteer firefighters, not just in Prospect but across the country. He said officials want to amend the ordinance to appeal to more volunteer firefighters and retain them.

“It’s a nice thank you for the guys who put in countless hours, especially with the added stress with the COVID-19 (pandemic),” Fire Chief William Lauber said.

Lauber said there are 12 volunteer firefighters with at least two years of service and 56 with at last five years at the department.

“Being somebody who’s been up there 21 years, I really appreciate it from the town. From the mayor to the Town Council, they support us,” Lauber said. “It means a lot that they’re showing us appreciation. The town has always supported us.”

The council’s ordinance committee will refine the amended language before it’s sent back to the full council for a virtual hearing, which wasn’t scheduled as of press time. The council will accept comments on the amendment via email. The council has been using towncouncil@townofprospect.org for the public to submit comments. Officials are looking to have the new language in place for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The financial impact on the town is estimated to be an additional $40,000 to $45,000.

Tax Collector Anne Marie Burr said if every eligible volunteer used their tax abatement it would amount to $52,000 this fiscal year. If the changes are implemented, she estimated the total abatement could be $93,000 next fiscal year.

“I fully support any abatement that we can give to our volunteer firefighters,” Burr said. “I think it’s very well deserved. They’re extremely dedicated.”