What if you call for an ambulance, and none show up? That was the question posed to the Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education at the November 15 school board meeting. Orange County Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Vini Tankasali delivered a presentation to the board concerning a law signed by Governor Kathy Hochul. The law, passed in December 2022, allows school boards — and other local governing bodies — to regularly provide up to 10% off on property tax assessments held by volunteer firefighters and EMS workers. To benefit from the law, volunteers must commit to a minimum term of service within the community that they serve.
Tankasali stated that most local municipalities and school boards in our area have set the floor for the minimum amount of service time at two years. This means, if approved by the board, volunteers in our area would need to serve for two years before becoming eligible for the 10% reduction. Although the 10% number is the maximum, municipalities and school boards can vary the range of deduction provided between one and 10%. The deputy commissioner also said that the local governing bodies have so far opted to provide the maximum 10% reduction.
After 20 years of volunteer service, the 10% reduction would become permanent. This benefit would also pass on to a partner after the death of an individual who received it, as long as that partner remains in the area. If they were to remarry, they would no longer be eligible for the benefit. Tankasali requested that the Monroe-Woodbury School Board opt into the program. Tankasali, a former Monroe Fire Department chief and Monroe-Woodbury alum, pointed out that in 2022 alone, local EMS responded to 2,800 calls, while local fire departments answered 2,241 alarms. Although there are some paid staff within both departments, the deputy commissioner said that the vast majority of our local first responders are volunteers.
This law emanated from a New York State Task Force that is currently investigating the steep decline in emergency service volunteers throughout the state. Tankasali pointed out that the issue goes well beyond New York State, as the entire country is currently dealing with similar shortages. According to a recent report from NPR, a third of America’s firefighters are volunteers. A 2020 study from the National Fire Protection Association also found that a third of firefighters in local communities were over the age of 50. Neither statistic bodes well for the future.
The deputy commissioner went on to state that 130 people in our area would qualify for the 10% reduction. The number would be higher; however, the law applies only to volunteers who pay property taxes on a primary residence with the municipality they serve, meaning those who rent or live with their parents don’t qualify. Pew Research found that in 2023, one in three Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 currently live with their parents. Pew has also found that 36% of American households are rented.
Tankasali concluded by saying, “I can’t stress the importance of it. We’re trying whatever we can to keep our volunteers. [...] Unless we start making changes, it’s not looking good for the future.” His remarks were echoed by Debbie Beth, president of Woodbury Ambulance. She stated that the situation locally “is very grave.” “We don’t want to get into a situation where someone calls for an ambulance and nobody shows up.” The Board of Education clerk requested that Tankasali share further information, including the local municipalities and boards who have opted in. The board will investigate and provide an update on this matter in future meetings.