EXETER – On Tuesday, the Exeter Town Council unanimously approved an increase to the tax exemptions for the town’s volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel, with the goal of attracting and retaining more local recruits. The town council voted to raise the tax exemption cap from $50,000 to $100,000.
Before the ordinance was amended on Tuesday, there was previously a $50,000 property tax exemption cap for volunteer firefighters who accumulated a certain number of points, which are gained by attending meetings, participating in training sessions and going on calls. However, because the town’s fire departments have indicated that volunteerism, recruitment and retention are down, an increase to the cap was suggested as an incentive to attract and maintain local volunteers.
The matter was first discussed publicly during a town council meeting last year when members of the council and fire chief Scott Gavitt suggested that the cap be increased to $100,000 for volunteer firefighters who accumulate 200 points or more. To accumulate so many points, Gavitt explained, a volunteer would have to be consistently active at the fire department throughout the entire year.
Gavitt also said last year that, while the fire department had tried several ways of recruiting more volunteers from the town in the past, they were still having trouble retaining them.
After having a conversation with the fire chief, councilor Manny Andrews explained last October that the increase in tax exemptions would help the department both recruit and retain volunteers, especially volunteers who live in Exeter.
In December, the council voted unanimously to send the resolution to amend the tax exemptions to the town’s legislative delegation, requesting it be raised from a $50,000 cap to $100,000. The resolution passed through the General Assembly in June, sending it back to the Exeter Town Council for a public hearing.
And on Tuesday, the council held the public hearing, and eventually approved the amendments to the code of ordinances regarding tax exemptions.
“This has been an ongoing discussion. It’s an effort being made to encourage volunteers in fire and rescue departments to continue to serve us,” council president Cal Ellis said on Tuesday. “That is the initiative for the adjustments being made to the current code of ordinance regarding tax exemptions.”
“The purpose of the public hearing is to consider revisions to tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel,” he continued.
Ellis read from the amendments to the ordinance, which included the creation of a two-tier tax exemption system, based on the number of points firefighters earn.
Councilor Frank DiGregorio said that the increase to the tax exemption would help the fire and rescue teams both attract and retain recruits.
“It will help keep the volunteer fire and rescue teams blended with new and experienced volunteers,” he said. “It’s an incentive for young people to join and volunteer their time and it’s also designed to provide incentives for those with experiences to gain a greater credit. It’s a well thought out incentive and a good purpose.”
And councilor Dan Patterson, who, along with the town’s fire chiefs, advocated for the resolution at the Statehouse, said that the increase in tax exemptions also applied to motor vehicles for volunteers living in Exeter.
“These guys out here are trying to attract more volunteers and trying to retain the ones that they have,” he said. “A lot of these firefighters, they don’t own property. They’re renting or living in other towns. But for the ones in Exeter, it also gives a tax break on their motor vehicles.”
“We were lucky we got it through,” he continued. “At least we got one thing passed at the Statehouse this year.”
The town council proceeded to unanimously approve the increase in tax exemptions for local volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel.