As the state is seeing a growing shortage of volunteer first responders, Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne and Sean Wiley (D-Erie) felt the need to introduce a piece of legislation that would allow municipalities the authority to reduce or waive their local earned income tax. This tax relief would help assist volunteer firefighters and volunteers at non-profit emergency medical service agencies.
Roughly 96% of firefighters are volunteer and do not get paid to fight fires or add assistance in accident scenes. The increase in volunteer shortages are attributed to families’ growing need for multiple incomes which reduces the time to volunteer.
State Bill 299 would give volunteer firefighters and EMT’s a small break on their local taxes. Under this piece of legislation, local municipalities would have the authority to set the amount of tax credit and the gudielines of the program, including specifying the number of calls to which a volunteer must answer, as well the level of training they require.
SB 299 is expected to be part of a larger package as the General Assembly continues to address recruitment and rention of first responders across the state. The idea for the legislation was bolstered by a joint hearing on firefighter and EMT retention and recruitmentheld in 2013 by the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Senator Baker chaired for seven years. The joint hearing led to a series of meetings held by a work group focusing on the challenges facing firefighting and some suggestions to bolster the ranks of volunteers.
“This bill is one step in the right direction of an ongoing dialogue, said Wiley. “Without meaningful intervention, I fear there may very soon come a day when the alarm sounds and no is there to answer the call.”
The bill will now be considered by the House.