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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 24

Opinions of Counsel index

Volunteer firefighters and fire companies in villages exemption (additional to volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers (Westchester Co.) exemption); Volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers exemption (Westchester Co.) (parcel also entitled to volunteer firefighters and fire companies in villages exemption) - Real Property Tax Law §§ 466, 466-d:

Where a Westchester County village offers both the volunteer firefighters and fire companies exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 466) and the volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers exemption (RPTL, § 466-d), a qualified firefighter who does not apply for or otherwise does not qualify under section 466-d may continue to be receive exemption under section 466. A qualified firefighter may receive both exemptions for village tax purposes.

We have received an inquiry concerning the volunteer firemen and fire companies in villages exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 466) as it relates to the volunteer firefighters/ambulance workers exemption for Westchester County municipalities (RPTL, § 466-d as added by L.2003, c.142). The assessor advises that his village has granted the section 466 exemption for some years and that it has now also adopted the section 466-d exemption. The question is whether both exemptions may be granted. The related question is if those members who do not qualify for or did not apply for exemption under section 466-d may still retain their section 466 exemptions or whether those exemptions must be removed.

Section 466 is derived from a former provision of the Village Law and has not been amended since the recodification of the RPTL (L.1958, c.959). It provides:

Upon the adoption of a proposition therefor by the qualified voters of a village, the real property owned by a volunteer member of the village fire department and the real property owned by any volunteer fire company in the village shall be exempt from taxation for village purposes to the extent of [$500] in addition to any other exemption authorized by law (emphasis added).

Section 466-d authorizes the governing boards of Westchester County and the cities, towns, villages, and school districts therein to adopt local laws (or school district resolutions) to grant a partial exemption of 10 percent of assessed value to volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers. Section 466-d(6) provides that: “No applicant who is a volunteer firefighter or volunteer ambulance worker who by reason of such status is receiving any benefit under the provisions of this article on the effective date of this section shall suffer any diminution of such benefit because of the provisions of this section.”

Prior to the enactment of the various volunteer firefighter/ambulance workers exemptions (currently enumerated, often redundantly, as RPTL, §§ 466-a – 466-i) the only exemption for such individuals was the village-only section 466 exemption. As such, we have assumed that section 466-d(6) (and the similar provisions in the other county-by-county exemptions) is in reference to section 466. That is, the new exemption should not result in a lesser exemption for village firefighters than the $500 received under section 466. We note that, unlike Westchester County’s section 466-d exemption, most of the county-by-county exemptions are 10 percent subject to a limitation of the lesser of $3,000 or $3,000 multiplied by the State equalization rate, so that a village exemption might well be computed to be less than $500. {1}

However, the above-emphasized clause of section 466 cannot be ignored. Long before the enactment of section 466-d and its comparable provisions, we noted that the exemption provided by section 466 was in addition to other exemptions such as those for veterans and senior citizens (2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 23). We see no reason why section 466 must not be read to be in addition to section 466-d. Section 466 has not been amended despite the enactment of the many county-by-county volunteer exemptions nor can we conclude that it has been repealed by implication since such repeals are not favored “and a statute is not deemed repealed by a later one unless the two are in such conflict that both cannot be given effect” (McKinney’s Statutes, § 391). True, under our interpretation, a village volunteer firefighter may receive two village exemptions based upon the same volunteer service, but, if this result is objectionable to some, the village board could refrain from enacting a local law pursuant to section 466-d unless and until the village residents vote to rescind section 466 (Starr v. Mayor and Trustees of Village of Island Park, n.o.r., 130 NYS2d 235 (Sup Ct, Nassau Co. 1954)).

Therefore, unless the section 466 exemption has been rescinded locally, firefighters who have not applied for or do not qualify for the section 466-d exemption may continue to receive the same. Moreover, those that qualify for both exemptions from village taxes may receive both exemptions.

March 30, 2009

{1}  Under current law, in addition to Westchester, the exemptions authorized for Montgomery, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties offer a 10 percent exemption not subject to the $3,000 (or $3,000 x State equalization rate) limitation; the others all include that cap.