To the editor:
I was stunned and saddened to read your recent editorial (“An exercise in political grandstanding,” May 22) that took direct partisan aim at a proposal that I introduced in the state Assembly.
I think we all agree — including this publication which acknowledged it — that New York is facing a crisis when it comes to staffing our first responder stations, particularly in rural Upstate. This publication identifies other costly measures that are contributing to the dwindling numbers of volunteers, citing equipment and the cost of fire engines. That’s confusing and falsely addressing the issue at hand which is recruitment and retention of volunteers. Cost of equipment and apparatuses’ has nothing to do with a loss of volunteers, ask any fire department or emergency service provider. That component has to deal with the woeful and underappreciated investment from the state.
What I have done is open up a discussion to incentivize retaining members and encourage new members to join these services. The readers of this newspaper, the constituents of my district, and the paper itself can all agree that this is a common sense starting point to address the massive problems that are closing the doors of our firehouses and ambulance services. If we don’t address this crisis, and soon, New York would be forced to move to a paid-services model for emergency services. That would cost taxpayers upwards of $3 billion annually, and force the state to raise taxes 26% to cover it. If you think we have a problem with hemorrhaging population now, you just wait until that comes to pass.
Giving these volunteers tax free status from state income taxes can help shore up the volunteerism that is the lifeblood of these institutions. We owe it to them to ease their burden as much as we can. It’s a public safety issue, but it’s also about respect and our own peace of mind. I’m disappointed in this publication coming out so firmly in an unproductive and biased way. We should be having a productive dialogue together about how we can solve this problem, not encouraging and inciting partisan dialogue.
Assemblyman Chris Tague
102nd Assembly District