May 20--WILLINGTON -- Firefighters in town may be getting a break on their tax bills as local selectmen Monday mulled -- but did not take action -- on a tax abatement plan for volunteer firefighters.
The Willington Hill Fire Department Monday presented the board of selectmen with a plan at the regular selectmen meeting in Willington Town Hall.
The tax abatement program, which is being suggested by Willington Hill, an all-volunteer fire department, would allow firefighters to receive a tax credit of up to $1,000.
The tax break would depend on members meeting certain criteria, such as responding to 10 percent of all calls during the year and also attending a minimum amount of meetings during the year.
Willington Fire Department No. 1 representatives were not at Monday's meeting and selectmen are waiting to hear from members of that department regarding the proposal. That department utilizes both paid and volunteer members.
As a result, Willington First Selectman Christina B. Mailhos tabled the discussion for the next selectmen meeting in June.
The board decided there was a good possibility the abatement program would be added to the agenda for the Aug. 5 town meeting, where the public would vote on it.
Though no formal decision was made, local town and fire officials discussed and debated the proposal Monday.
Willington Hill Fire Chief Thomas Snyder said he believed this would give some incentive for volunteers to stay on and also participate more in emergencies during the year.
"For me, it would be a reward for all the time my firefighters put in while not being paid," Snyder said. "It's a good incentive to keep my volunteers from leaving."
According to the proposed plan, the incentive would be offered to volunteer firefighters.
For example, Willington Hill has 25 members, so -- at $1,000 apiece -- the tax abatement plan
for that department would cost the town up to $25,000 in tax revenue.
That would increase taking into account Willington Fire Department No. 1.
Selectman John Blessington said such an abatement plan could be a burden to taxpayers.
" Simply put, adding to the budget would increase taxes for people who lived in town," Blessington said. "We don't really want to increase taxes."
But Town Treasurer Tish Ignatowicz disagreed with the scope of the increase as it pertained to Willington Hill.
" For every $ 400,000 added to the budget, you usually have about an $100 increase to taxes," Ignatowicz said. " So to add $25,000 would only increase taxes by a very miniscule amount."
Selectman Kim Kowalyshyn claimed the abatement program would be unfair for all the regular taxpayers in town.
"I don't think it matters who you are. You should always be paying your taxes on time or be on some type of payment plan," Kowalyshyn said. "We shouldn't be rewarding people for not paying their taxes, they should be held to the same standard as everyone else in town."
But, as Snyder pointed out, they're not like everyone else, they're doing a dangerous service for the town and are donating their time.
"The way I look at it is that they're fighting fires as volunteers, the other fire department in town is private and a lot of the firefighters are paid," Snyder said. "My firefighters should be getting some kind of incentive for the hard work they're doing."
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