Town Council enhances tax abatement benefits for volunteer firefighters, EMS

MONROE, CT — Firefighters from the town’s three companies put their lives on the line while battling structure fires and rescue drivers involved in car crashes with entrapment. Residents also count on members of the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service for the life saving care they provide.

The town has a Tax Abatement Ordinance to reward these volunteers for their service, while encouraging recruitment of new members. On Monday night, the Town Council unanimously approved amendments to the ordinance with changes to enhance the benefits.

“I will say without hesitation that upon the Council’s adoption, I will be proud to sign this into a new local ordinance,” First Selectman Ken Kellogg said before the vote.

“And the timing of this abatement couldn’t be any more poignant with the injury that one of our firefighters faced recently,” said Councilman Sean O’Rourke. “Hopefully he’s doing better and doesn’t suffer too long of a disability.”

O’Rourke was referring to a Monroe volunteer firefighter who sustained a “traumatic injury” while battling a residential blaze on Old Zoar Road on April 15, after falling while opening up the roof over the attic fire with another firefighter. On Wednesday, Fire Marshal William “Bill” Davin said the firefighter is recovering nicely.

The resolution adopted by the Council after a public hearing earlier in the evening consolidated individual sections of the Town Code into a single section covering both EMS and firefighters.

Previously, annual tax abatements were capped at a maximum of $1,000 for members with five years of service or more. Kellogg said the most significant change is to raise the maximum abatement to $2,000 for nine years or service or more.

Other revisions include changing “veteran” and “life” status to “veteran” and “retired veteran” and updating eligibility as per statute, while raising these benefits from $150 to $250 and from $300 to $500 respectively.

“It also allows for future changes in determination of “active” status eligibility by simple resolution of the Town Council, following a required opportunity for input from the EMS Commission or the three Fire Chiefs, as appropriate.”

Another change is the creation of a Connecticut residency requirement to remove the challenges and difficulties currently experienced in processing out-of-state abatements and inconsistencies in property tax structures and application in other states, according to Kellogg.

The first selectman said he consulted with the Finance Department to project the financial impact of the proposed changes, which were incorporated in the budget proposal for fiscal year 2023-24, which will be decided on by voters at referendum May 2.

The changes to the Tax Abatement for Volunteer Emergency Medical Services Personnel and Volunteer Firefighters ordinance were reviewed by the EMS Commission, which reported the changes would increase retention and be comparable with other towns, according to Kellogg.

During a public hearing Monday night, Stevenson Fire Chief John Howe said, “on behalf of all three fire companies, we really appreciate you looking at the ordinance and increasing it. This is definitely a benefit for our active volunteers by increasing the tax abatement … thank you very much for supporting the volunteers.”

Steve Kirsch, a member of the Board of Finance, speaking for himself as a private citizen, said, “I am in favor of this. What they do for the town is certainly worth it for us and I think this is going to be a good thing.”

Before coming to the Town Council for a final vote, the amendments to the Tax Abatement Ordinance were reviewed by Town Attorney Francis “Frank” Lieto, the Town Council’s Committee on Finance, Education, Health and Public Safety, and by its Legislative and Administrative Matters Committee.

Councilman Jason Maur said he “heartily supports” the ordinance changes and was happy to be able to approve it because of all the volunteers do for the community.

“Thank you very much for all that you do,” said Councilman Terry Rooney. “Those of you that know me, I come from a firefighter and a police background, so I know what it is and the least we can do from Council is to say, ‘thank you for what you do,’ so thank you.”

Town Council Vice Chair Enid Lipeles said her ADT alarm malfunctioned last week and first responders arrived at her home within five minutes. “I can personally say, ‘thank you very much,'” she said of the quick response. “God bless you guys.”

Councilwoman Jessica Katuska praised Kellogg for his work on the ordinance. “Thank you for opening this up for the town and for the volunteers,” she said.

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