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Pa. tax bill could boost volunteer fire department enrollment

| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 9:52 a.m.

Fire departments could see a rise in membership if a measure passed by the state House of Representatives earlier this month passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

House Bill No. 142 has been sent to the state Senate where it awaits Finance Committee approval.

The measure passed through the House by a 195-0 vote on Oct. 2.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Hornaman, D-Erie, would give municipalities the ability to provide credits on property and earned-income taxes for volunteer first-responders, namely firefighters and other emergency medical service providers.

Under the plan, volunteers could receive up to 20 percent off their residential real estate tax bills from school boards and county governments. They could also receive credits from their municipal government.

First-responsders in Webster could benefit.

The Rostraver Township village is served by Rostraver No. 1 fire department, which has had problems in recent years being able to respond to calls because it lacked sufficient members.

“Right now we're at 20 members on our active roster,” Rostraver No. 1 Chief Dave Pierce said. “Our recovery is going really well. We've upped our training, and since then, we haven't had issues with responding to calls.”

Pierce said some inactive members have been reinstated to help boost the numbers. He said he's excited for the opportunity to further increase membership.

“If it could help us boost our numbers, I'd like to see it passed tomorrow,” a chuckling Pierce said of the tax credit bill. “I know that it can't happen like that, but still, I'm really looking forward to it, and I hope it passes.”

The chief added that he believes the Rostraver Township Board of Commissioners would pass a measure granting the tax breaks for firefighters.

However, one local firefighter doesn't believe his department would see much benefit from the measure.

“I think about eight or nine out of the 30 firefighters on our roster would benefit,” Donora Fire Company Captain Tom Fronzaglio said. “Don't get me wrong, I think it's a good idea, but I don't think it would benefit us as much as others.”

Fronzaglio said many Donora members are younger firefighters, most of whom don't own property and pay taxes.

“I think its a great idea to try and bring in new members. Face it, no one is beating our door down, and we are getting older.”

A firefighter for 16 years, Fronzaglio said that since he joined the Donora Fire Company, approximately 10 applications have been submitted.

Five of the applicants stuck.

“The state wants volunteer firefighters to have a lot of classes that a lot of guys cant afford,” the captain said. “I think the tax break would help.

“I've put my heart, blood, sweat and tears into the Donora Fire Company. Even if they didn't give a tax break, I would still do it for free, because I love what I do.”

State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg – first assistant chief of the Canonsburg Fire Department – said he is hopeful his colleagues pass the measure. An earlier attempt at a similar bill failed.

“I'd love to see us get this bill moved into committee quickly,” Solobay said by phone. “The only problem is that we only have about three session days left before the end of this two-year time frame.”

The bill was referred to the Senate's Finance Committee on Oct. 10.

“I'm not sure we can get it out of the committee and onto the floor for a vote,” Solobay said. “It's kind of frustrating, but this is something that we definitely are going to take a look at, and it's something I'm in favor of.”

The state Senate will reconvene 1 p.m. Nov. 14.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or jsellew@tribweb.com.

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