Pa. borough weighs tax credit for volunteer firefighters

Act 172 allows communities to offer volunteers breaks on earned income taxes and up to a 20 percent reimbursement for property taxes

By Kyle Wind
The Times-Tribune

JESSUP, Pa. — Jessup may offer a property tax credit to encourage people to volunteer as borough firefighters.

Solicitor Richard Fanucci believes the move would make Jessup the first municipality in Northeast Pennsylvania to take advantage of a new state law authorizing local governments to offer incentives to help address a statewide shortage of volunteers.

A decade ago, Jessup Hose Company 2 and ambulance association had 40 active volunteers prepared to respond to emergencies, compared with 20 firefighters and EMTs now. Meanwhile, the number of calls has steadily increased, Fire Chief Steve Pitoniak estimated.

“It’s an issue all over,” Pitoniak said. “We’re a little bit better off than most companies. We get maybe two to three new members per year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s better than a lot of areas are doing.”

It is particularly difficult to find people who can respond to daytime calls for problems such as fires, car crashes and medical emergencies, which led Jessup and Blakely volunteer responders to move to dual dispatching over the last several years to “share the load.”

“Between manpower and the cost of equipment, (going it alone) is not doable anymore,” Pitoniak said. “We try not to duplicate services or equipment. ... We don’t have a ladder truck in Jessup. They have a ladder truck. They bring a ladder for us; we bring a rescue over to them.”

The chief attributed the decline in volunteerism to changes in the economy — with more people commuting to work, it is harder to drop everything and respond to an emergency call in the daytime — and a change in the younger generation’s mindset about public service.

Act 172, which was adopted in November and went into effect in late January, allows communities to offer volunteers breaks on earned income taxes and up to a 20 percent reimbursement for property taxes.

Fanucci said borough council was interested in offering the credit for property taxes but did not believe members have yet agreed on how much the discount should be.

“This council values the volunteers,” Fanucci said. “You don’t appreciate them until the day comes that you need them.”

Council is expected to discuss the measure at its Sept. 11 meeting and could vote on it then.

Pitoniak did not expect the incentive to be a major recruiting tool — particularly among younger people who don’t own property — but said anything would be welcome.

“Any kind of incentive we can get, we’re going to accept it and we’re going to appreciate it,” he said.

Copyright 2017 The Times-Tribune

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