To attract more volunteer firefighters and emergency response volunteers across Pennsylvania, two state senators have introduced a bill that would offer a new incentive.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Sean Wiley (D-Erie) and Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), would give municipalities the power to give volunteer first responders a credit on their local earned income tax.
Each municipality would be allowed to determine the amount of the tax credit and guidelines of the program, including the number of calls a volunteer must answer and the level of training they must have.
The bill would not require municipalities to provide these incentives, but allow them to decide if the credit is feasible within their budget.
“While the tax credit does reduce municipal revenue slightly, volunteer companies save municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars each year,” Wiley said. “It’s not a significant amount on behalf of the municipalities, but the real incentive is to the volunteers.”
The legislation is in response to dwindling numbers of volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel in the state. In the last 30 years, the number of volunteers has dropped from 300,000 to 50,000, Wiley said.
“The concern is, how do we sustain those numbers and how do we retain those that are volunteering today and hopefully incent additional people to consider volunteering in the future?” Wiley said.
Though the program will cost municipalities, Wiley said they would gain more from having more volunteers. The network of volunteers saves municipalities across the state a combined $6 billion per year, according to Wiley. Attempts in the past to give volunteer firefighters a state tax break have failed.
“If we didn’t have these volunteers and these first responders, the state would incur a significant amount of costs,” Wiley said. “We have to look in the future at different opportunities to incent those that are interested in volunteering, but also retain those who have been doing it for a number of years.”