The provisions of the Real Property Tax Law (“RPTL”) pertaining to property tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers have been amended. These amendments eliminate the requirement that these exemptions can only be extended by those municipalities authorized to do so by specific state legislation. Pursuant to these amendments, all local governments, school districts, and fire districts may do so through the enactment of a local law or ordinance (for counties, cities, towns and villages) or by resolution (for school and fire districts).
The amendments are set forth in RPTL §466-a, which authorizes the governing body of each city, village, town, school district, fire district or county to provide a partial real property tax exemption to enrolled members of an incorporated volunteer fire company, fire department or incorporated voluntary ambulance service or enrolled member thereof and their spouse. After a public hearing, the governing body (e.g., city council, town board, village board) can implement this property tax exemption through the adoption of a local law, ordinance, or resolution.
This exemption is capped at 10% of the assessed value of the eligible recipient’s home and is applicable to general municipal taxes, school taxes, and special district levies. The exemption does not apply to special assessments.
The extension of this partial exemption is at local option. Thus, each governing body has the discretion to authorize the exemption for eligible members within their taxing jurisdiction.
To be eligible for this exemption, (1) a volunteer firefighter or ambulance member must reside in the city, town, or village serviced by the incorporated volunteer fire company, fire department, or incorporated volunteer ambulance service; (2) the property must be the primary residence of the member; (3) the property must be used exclusively for residential purposes, or if not, then only those portions used exclusively for residential purposes are eligible for the exemption; and (4) the volunteer must be certified by the authority having jurisdiction over the incorporated volunteer fire company, fire department, or voluntary ambulance service as an enrolled member for the minimum years of service, in accordance with the certification procedure adopted by the governing body.
When adopting the exemption, the governing body must set the minimum years of service to be eligible for the exemption between two (2) and five (5) years of service and must also determine the procedure by which it certifies members years of service. The governing body may provide eligible members with a partial exemption of up to no more than 10% of the assessed value of their residence. Furthermore, the governing body has the authority to provide a lifetime exemption, of 10% of the residential property’s assessed value, to eligible members with 20 or more years of service, so long as the member’s primary residence is located within the same county. For example, a governing body has the ability to provide a 5% partial exemption to eligible members with less than 20 years of service and a 10% partial exemption for eligible members with 20 or more years of service.
Additionally, if a volunteer firefighter or volunteer ambulance is killed in the line of duty, the governing body may authorize an un-remarried spouse to maintain the exemption or may reinstate a pre-existing exemption claimed by the enrolled member prior to his/her death, if the following requirements are met: (1) the un-remarried spouse is certified by the governing body as an un-remarried spouse of an enrolled member who was killed in the line of duty; (2) the deceased volunteer had been enrolled for at least five years; and (3) the deceased volunteer had been receiving the exemption prior to his or her death.
Lastly, the governing body may by local law or resolution continue or reinstate the exemption for an un-remarried spouses of a deceased member if the following requirements are met: (1) such un-remarried spouse is certified by the governing body as an un-remarried spouse of a deceased enrolled member of such; (2) such deceased volunteer had been an enrolled member for at least twenty years; and (3) such deceased member and un-remarried spouse had been receiving the exemption for the property prior to the death of such volunteer.
Under the new law, applications for an exemption must be filed with the tax assessor or other agency, department or office designated by the municipality, school district and/or fire district offering such exemption on or before the taxable status date on a form as prescribed by the Commissioner of New York State Taxation and Finance department.
Furthermore, if the volunteer firefighter or volunteer ambulance worker is already receiving a property tax exemption due to his or her status as a volunteer, such existing exemption may not be reduced because of this new property tax exemption law. For example, if a taxing jurisdiction already provides the maximum 10% partial exemption to current members under an existing statute (i.e., RPTL §§ 466-a through 466-k), those members would continue to receive the 10% exemption, however, members who become eligible for the partial property tax exemption after the new law has been adopted by the local governing body will receive the rate chosen by the local governing body. Any taxing jurisdiction which currently provides a similar partial property exemption for its volunteer firefighters or voluntary ambulance crew members pursuant to an existing statute (i.e., RPTL §§ 466-a through 466-k) may continue providing such exemption, however, if the taxing jurisdiction would like to continue offering a partial property tax exemption to its volunteers, then it must adopt a local law, ordinance, or resolution to conform to the new law by December 9th, 2025, as the “old” exemption statutes(i.e., Real Property Tax Law §§ 466-a through 466-k) will be repealed on that date.