Support of tax credits urged
We urge municipalities all across the region to consider a trend of offering volunteer firefighters local tax credits.
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.
In February, North Huntingdon became one of the first Westmoreland County municipalities to do so.
Now, Harrison is among the Alle-Kiski Valley towns considering implementation of the credits.
“It's a challenging time to get new folks and keep the members that we currently have,” said Mike Krzeminski, fire chief of Hilltop Hose, one of Harrison's three volunteer fire companies.
The need to address the issue is so urgent that the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors last month implored the governor to call a special legislative session to address the volunteer crisis. According to its officials, the number of fire company volunteers in the state has dropped from 300,000 in the 1970s to fewer than 50,000 today. The association estimated that it would cost $10 billion if residents had to pay for the service the volunteers provide.
There have been variations on the recent tax credit offers.
Harrison is considering an earned income tax break of up to $300 for active members who meet certain minimum criteria.
The plan would include active firefighters who have completed training, as well as members who don't fight fires but volunteer to handle the business side of the departments and fundraising.
Eligibility would be based on a points system, which would include for training as an incentive for attending such sessions.
We urge any municipality that's having difficulty attracting or retaining volunteer fire company members to consider such tax breaks.
The loss in earned income tax is minor compared to the service that volunteers provide.
Krzeminski wonders how effective the tax break will be in recruiting new members, but he thinks it could help with retention.
“I really think being a volunteer firefighter is something that's deep inside you. It's not necessarily something that you do for money.”
The chief's probably right. But even if the tax break is seen simply as a token of appreciation, it's worth it.