North Huntingdon OKs tax breaks for firefighters, EMS volunteers
Active firefighters in North Huntingdon’s seven volunteer fire departments and volunteers in the township’s ambulance service will be able to benefit from tax credits for their volunteerism, a move designed to attract and retain volunteers for the public safety and health organizations.
North Huntingdon on Wednesday became Westmoreland County’s first municipality to give financial incentives – a 20 percent credit on their township real estate tax bill and a $250 refund on their earned income tax – to those emergency responders who have completed one year of service and met the requirements for volunteering.
The financial benefits may help increase the number of volunteer firefighters, said Commissioner Anthony Martino, president of the Circleville fire department.
“It’s a great incentive for them,” to join, Martino said.
Commissioner Darryl Bertani, a member of the Circleville fire department, abstained from voting on the ordinance because he said he can benefit from the tax credits.
The township’s Volunteer Service Credit Program follows the general guidelines of state Act 172, which took effect in January 2017. The volunteers who met the minimum criteria for service can take advantage of the $250 earned income tax credit this year, but will have to wait until next year to get a refund of the 2018 real estate taxes on their owner-occupied residence, said Jeff Silka, township manager.
Firefighters are considered active if they respond to 10 percent of a department’s emergency calls and are involved in 20 hours of annual training, plus help with 35 percent of the fundraising events. EMS volunteers are considered active if they provide 120 hours of service, including staffing hours, meetings and training.
“It’s a little incentive to get volunteers. It’s something we never had before,” said Craig Cochenour, chief of the Circleville fire department, said prior to the meeting.
The tax breaks could be benefit some of the volunteers with the North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue, but it is likely will be more helpful to the volunteer fire companies, said Shane Spielvogle, executive director of the North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue.
“Anytime you can get that tax relief for community service is a good trade(off),” Spielvogle said.
Silka said he was not certain how many volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel might be eligible for the rebate, nor could he estimate how much it might cost North Huntingdon until officials know how many will use it.
The township fire chiefs proposed to North Huntingdon officials last year that they consider enacting a program to give volunteers tax credits, Cochenour said.
North Huntingdon will become the 20th municipality in the state to enact the tax credit provisions under Act 172, according to the Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner, which tracks those municipalites enacting the tax credits.
Three of those municipalities are in Allegheny County – Churchill Borough, Richland Township and Robinson Township. Those three municipalities only offered a rebate on the earned income tax, not on the real estate tax. Silka said he wrote Robinson’s ordinance last year when he was serving as that municipality’s manager.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].