Cumberland County announces real estate tax credit for first responders | State

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The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners announced a real estate tax credit of up to $250 for volunteers at fire companies or emergency medical services who live in the county.

In response to the demand for more volunteers and as an acknowledgement of current volunteers, the ordinance was enacted at the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Meeting on June 1. Commissioners announced the initiative during a press conference at Hampden Township Volunteer Fire Company’s Good Hope Station on Tuesday.

Over half of the EMS agencies in Cumberland County rely on volunteers, said Duane Nieves, president of the Cumberland County EMS Council.

“Our costs continue to rise,” he said in a speech at the event Tuesday. “We continue to see unfunded mandates, and EMS reimbursement for services rendered remains stagnant or is dwindling. The engagement of these volunteers decreases overhead costs, which is particularly meaningful for these smaller communities.”

Witnessing firsthand the importance of volunteers, Frank Conte, a volunteer firefighter in Hampden Township, said the tax credit is a good start.

Conte wagered the average age of volunteers is 50. “In the middle of the night, I’m driving at 71 years old, and I have a 69-year-old with me,” he said. “That’s the first response we have out the door.”

According to Conte, a fire company needs between four and eight volunteers per call, numbers they are struggling to get. He said he is hopeful that the tax credit will incentivize younger residents to pursue a position to help meet demand.

The need for volunteers is especially urgent in small agencies with a lower call volume, Nieves said. In smaller communities, “volunteers may be the only people standing between the need for significant municipal funding, probably in the form of tax dollars, or the potential demise of the small EMS agency,” he said.

In addition to assisting the practical need for more volunteers, the tax credit also serves to recognize the “special breed of individual who runs toward danger,” said state Sen. Mike Regan at the press conference.

Legislators and county leaders should view the tax credit as an incremental step and continue pressing forward to make sure that the county’s volunteers are properly recognized, Regan said.

Cumberland County is the first county in Pennsylvania to implement a real estate tax credit for firefighters and EMS volunteers.

“We’re hopeful that many counties will follow as we seek to work collectively to preserve the heritage and the history of these important volunteer services in our commonwealth,” County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger said.

While Cumberland County is the first to pass this initiative on the county level, eight of the county’s 33 municipalities had previously adopted a tax incentive for first responders.

The boroughs of Carlisle, Lemoyne and Wormleysburg, and Lower Allen, Upper Allen, Silver Spring, South Middleton and Hampden townships are “richly deserving of acknowledgement for their role in paving the way for an adoption of such incentives,” Eichelberger said.

To qualify for the real estate tax credit, certified active volunteers must be in good standing with their fire or EMS organization’s requirements for at least six months between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 of the same year. Applications for the tax credit can be submitted annually.

Volunteers who are injured while responding to an emergency call that inhibits their ability to serve are also eligible for the tax credit.

Applications will be available in the coming weeks, County Commissioner Vince DiFilippo said.

Jerry Ozog, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, said the county commissioners’ decision to implement the tax credit ensures the strength of the county’s volunteer fire and EMS organizations and acknowledges their value to the community.

“Pennsylvania’s volunteer firefighters and EMTs have a history of grit and determination to get the job done when the community’s having a bad day,” he said.

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