Daily Court Reporter - News Bipartisan measure proposes tax credit for state's volunteer first responders
Bipartisan measure proposes tax credit for state's volunteer first responders
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
Lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives are mulling a bipartisan plan to incentivize the state's volunteer first responders whose number of firefighters alone has decreased by 1,700 since 2013.
Members of the Ways and Means Committee recently heard testimony in support of the measure which proposes a progressive tax credit for the volunteers tied to an individual's years of service.
Filed as House Bill 143, the legislation would authorize a refundable income tax credit for volunteer firefighters, emergency medical technicians and peace officers.
The amount of the credit proposed varies according to how many "volunteer service years" the volunteer as-taxpayer has accrued, according to Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis of the bill.
A volunteer service year is defined as a year during which the taxpayer serves as a volunteer emergency responder either on 10 percent of the department's, organization's or agency's emergency response runs during that year or on 10 percent of the days in that year during which volunteer emergency responders performed tasks other than making emergency response runs.
HB 143 has proposed a $500 tax credit for a volunteer first responder who has served one to five years; a $1,000 tax credit for six to 10 years of service; and a $2,000 tax credit for 11 years or more of service.
"Before I began research on this bill, I was unaware of the critical needs of those in the first responder community," Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, told her peers on the committee. "It was not until I began to meet these men and women face-to-face that I truly saw their bravery, heroism and their immense needs that go unmet.
"Many fire departments around our state face staffing shortages, broken or missing equipment and in the case of volunteers - little to no compensation. Additionally, many areas that have volunteer peace officer programs are relying on these individuals to keep their communities safe under similar conditions."
Keller cited the Ohio Department of Public Safety figures that showed the steep decline in volunteer firefighters during the past six years.
"To outfit one firefighter with the necessary gear is approximately $4,500," she continued. "The air packs that go with them are an additional $7,000.
"Additionally, there is a great amount of time volunteers have to take off from their jobs and families to receive necessary trainings. ... Then after all these expenses of time and money, it has become difficult to keep volunteers."
New London Volunteer Fire Chief John Chapin said the days of department's like his having to waitlist prospective volunteers are long passed.
"That hasn't existed for years," he said during testimony on behalf of the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association. "We get together and discuss who might be a good fit for our department and then go recruit.
"Volunteerism isn't what it used to be. We have a good core of volunteers that have family in our community and are very civic minded."
The Ohio Township Association also offered testimony in support of the bill.
"With the ranks of volunteer personnel declining but still critically needed, the state should provide small incentives to these volunteers who risk their lives for little or no compensation," association Assistant Executive Director Heidi Fought said. "The cost of these incentives to the state government would be minimal compared to the estimated cost savings provided by volunteer emergency services."
The Ohio Firefighters' Association, Buckeye Sheriffs' Association and Brothers Helping Brothers have lent their support to HB 143.
Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, jointly sponsors the bill with Keller. Nineteen fellow House members have cosponsored the measure, which had not been scheduled a third hearing at time of publication.
Date Published: May 27, 2019