ShareThis Page
Westmoreland

N. Huntingdon first to offer tax breaks to volunteer firefighters, EMS workers

Joe Napsha
| Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, 12:39 p.m.
Latrobe Volunteer Fire Chief John Brasile is pictured with one of the department's trucks.
Joe Napsha | Tribune-Review
Latrobe Volunteer Fire Chief John Brasile is pictured with one of the department's trucks.
A Shafton fire truck in North Huntindgon.
.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
A Shafton fire truck in North Huntindgon. .

Greensburg fire Chief Tom Bell believes offering the city's volunteer firefighters a tax credit for their work could help the department recruit new members and retain others.

“We're always having to recruit members. If we get someone who wants to be a member and get a tax break, they might find a love for (firefighting),” Bell said.

Active volunteer firefighters, as well as those involved with emergency medical services such as an ambulance company, can get a 20 percent credit on their municipal real estate taxes and a rebate on earned income taxes under Act 172, a state law that took effect in January 2017.

Greensburg hasn't yet taken action to provide those tax credits.

“I am sure it is something we will be addressing,” said Sue Trout, city administrator.North Huntingdon on Wednesday became the first municipality in Westmoreland County to adopt an ordinance providing the tax credits to its active volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. Of the 19 other municipalities in the state that have adopted such ordinances, three are in Allegheny County — Churchill, Robinson and Richland Township, according to the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

Under North Huntingdon's Volunteer Service Credit Program, active volunteers with at least one year of service who meet the township's criteria would get a 20 percent tax credit on local real estate taxes on their property, plus a $250 refund on earned income tax. The state law gives municipalities the option of offering either tax credit, or both.

North Huntingdon Commissioner Anthony Martino sees the tax breaks as helping to recruit members.

“It's a great incentive for them” to join, said Martino, who also serves as the president of the Circleville Volunteer Fire Department.

Municipalities can set the criteria for what they consider an active volunteer. In North Huntingdon, firefighters must respond to 10 percent of a department's emergency calls and participate in 20 hours of annual training, plus assist with 35 percent of its fundraisers. EMS volunteers are eligible if they provide 120 hours of service, including staffing hours, meetings and training.

Township officials were not certain how many firefighters or EMS volunteers might be eligible for the tax breaks, or how much it might cost.

North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue has some volunteers who might qualify, but it probably will be more beneficial to the fire companies, said Shane Spielvogle, executive director of the service.

“Anytime you can get that tax relief for community service is a good trade,” Spielvogle said.

Craig Cochenour, chief of the Circleville fire department in North Huntingdon, agrees that the incentive could work for volunteers since “it's something we never had before.”

Offering a credit on Hempfield's real estate taxes might not be much of an incentive, since the township levies only a 3-mill tax, said Greg Saunders, Bovard fire chief.

Saunders, a longtime firefighter, said the Bovard company has been able to attract a steady stream of young firefighters through other means.

“We don't hire them; we breed them,” Saunders joked, noting that many newcomers have family ties to the department.

Latrobe fire Chief John Brasile said he's had no discussions with city officials about the tax incentive. The city's five fire companies have about 85 active volunteers.

“The tax breaks would be a No. 1 item,” Brasile said. Even better for recruitment are grants that provide stipends to active firefighters who respond to a certain percentage of calls each year, Brasile said.

Wayne Jones, Latrobe city manager, could not be reached for comment.

Penn Township is “very open to the idea” of offering tax credits to draw firefighters to its five volunteer departments, said Alex Graziani, township secretary-manager.

“We're trying to find the best way to reward the volunteers so they stay active and do the training. We want to make sure it is the most effective way to help the fire departments. We have to find a way so that they're not spending all those hours frying fish and conducting fundraisers,” to make enough money to operate, Graziani said.

Tax credits could cost the township between $5,000 and $15,000 in rebates. There are challenges to setting up the procedures for the reimbursement program, which Graziani described as a “mini-IRS” to handle the rebates.

“Any little bit would help. It's tough getting people to volunteer,” to dedicate so much time to training and fundraising and answering emergency calls — 400 last year for Harrison City's 20 to 25 active firefighters, Chief Gene Good said.

“Most people join when they have some time to help. That little incentive might compensate them for the time they volunteer,” Good said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me