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Pa. officials consider tax breaks for volunteer EMTs

Qualifying EMTs would receive a 20 percent discount on local real estate taxes and up to a $300 tax break on the township's earned income tax

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Beaver County Times

ALEPPO TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It could pay to be a volunteer or emergency responder in some local communities.

Township officials next week will consider adopting an ordinance that would give volunteer firefighters and employees of nonprofit Emergency Management Service Associations a tax break. Under the proposal, qualifying firefighters and emergency workers would receive a 20 percent discount on local real estate taxes and up to a $300 tax break on the township’s earned income tax.

“There hasn’t been much opinion against it,” township Manager Gwen Patterson said. “We’re just following what other municipalities are doing.”

The proposal is possible thanks to Act 172 of 2016, which went into effect in January. A voluntary piece of legislation, it allows municipalities to decide if they want to offer the tax break or not.

Many Allegheny County communities have begun adopting ordinances that outline their program, but each reflect the community’s needs, Patterson said. For instance Emsworth, which is the municipal ordinance Aleppo Township is basing its policy off of, offers a 20 percent tax break on local property tax and half of the earned income tax owed. That ordinance also defines the amount of work that a volunteer must perform to be eligible. For instance, in Emsworth, a volunteer firefighter must respond to 30 percent of calls or attend 50 percent of trainings and meetings, or a combination of 40 percent of calls and 40 percent of meetings and trainings.

Patterson said that Aleppo Township will determine the criteria for a volunteer to receive the benefit based on fire department criteria.

The same is not true in Beaver County. Act 172 hasn’t been a topic at local meetings, said Ambridge borough Manager Joe Kauer. In Monaca, councilman Chris Shotter – who also serves as president of Monaca Volunteer Fire Company No. 4 – said he hasn’t heard it discussed anywhere in the county.

As a firefighter, he thinks it’s a nice gesture, but as a councilman, he has concerns.

“It’s a great recruiting tool, but as a councilman, you see the effects of that break on the budget,” Shotter said. “How are you replacing the funding when you give that tax break?”

That’s a question local municipalities have to ask themselves, said Rick Schuettler, executive director at the Pennsylvania Municipal League. Since it’s not mandatory, each community’s leaders can make the decision that best fits their needs. He noted that the state legislature didn’t include a state tax break in the law, but only gave municipal officials the option of offering the discount.”

“People are definitely interested in the idea,” Schuettler said. “If you can’t afford it, then don’t do it, but that’s a local decision.”

Copyright 2017 Beaver County Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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