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Westmoreland

Irwin may offer tax incentives for volunteer firefighters

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 10:34 p.m.

Irwin residents who are active firefighters with the borough's volunteer department could get a tax break as an incentive to stay involved. Officials hope it will also attract new members.

“I am very interested in pursuing that (idea),” council President Rick Burdelski said. Council will consider the proposal at a May 2 workshop session, Burdelski said.

“It may lure some people to volunteer,” fire Chief Justin Mochar said.

Active volunteer firefighters and 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. The state law, which took effect in January 2017, aims to bolster fire departments.

The number of volunteer firefighters statewide have dropped by 50 percent twice in the past 40 years, Mochar noted at a meeting last week.

Giving active firefighters a tax break would have “minimal impact” on borough finances, Burdelski said.

Councilwoman Leslie Savage agreed, noting the borough's real estate tax levy averages about $500 per residence, so only about $100 would be lost from each active firefighter who owns a home in the borough.

“That's nothing when these guys are risking their lives,” Mochar said.

The Irwin fire department has about 35 active firefighters. Seventeen of them live in Irwin, he said.

“You have generational families (grandfather, father and son) coming through the fire department, but that will be gone” in the future, Mochar said.

While the state sets the maximum amount of tax breaks a municipality can give active volunteers, the criteria for determining who is eligible for the tax breaks is set locally. Mochar said he likely would offer a set of requirements for the tax breaks that are modeled after those set by North Huntingdon — the first municipality in Westmoreland County to offer them.

Firefighters in North Huntingdon qualify if they have at least one year of service, respond to 10 percent of emergency calls, take 20 hours of annual training and help with 35 percent of the fundraising events. EMS volunteers are considered active if they provide 120 hours of service, including staffing hours, meetings and training.

Noting the constant need to raise money, Mochar said, “We're full-time fundraisers, part-time firefighters.”

With Irwin residents volunteering for North Huntingdon fire companies and about 18 North Huntingdon residents, including Mochar, serving on Irwin's fire department, borough solicitor Zachary Kansler recommended linking any incentives to an inter-municipal agreement that offers ones similar to North Huntingdon's.

“It's a small token to help our guys out,” Mochar said.

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

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