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        A bill authorizing income tax credits for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians would help compensate them for out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages, a chief with the Lindsey Volunteer Fire Department recently testified before a committee of the state legislature.

        Jason Conklin was one of nine persons to offer testimony May 22 before the House Ways and Means Committee in support of House Bill 575.

        Conklin, a member of the Lindsey department for 24 years and its deputy chief for the past seven, said the department has seen a rapid increase in calls during the past four years; from an annual average of 91 between 2009 and 2013, to 121 since 2014.

        “This increase of 30 calls per year equates to an additional 60 hours of time per firefighter, volunteered each year. This is important to note, because many of our firefighters can leave work but are not compensated while they are gone,” Conklin testified. “Although we receive tremendous support from our community, our meager budget does not allow us to compensate our firefighters for their time and/or costs associated with being on our department.”

        Representatives Candice Keller, R-Middleton, and Jeffery Rezabek, R- Clayton, are the bill’s primary sponsors.

        In his testimony during the committee’s first hearing on the bill in April, Rep. Rezabek said volunteer firefighters/EMTs would receive a refundable tax credit each year against the state personal income tax based on their years of service.

        “Those who have served between one to five years will be eligible to receive $500 per year off their taxes, $1,000 for those who have served six to 10 year, and $2,000 per year for those who have served 11 years or more,” he told the committee. “There are tiers to this credit for a very specific reason – longevity. There is great expense in equipping and training these men and women stepping up as volunteers.”

        He urged the committee to remember that volunteer firefighters complete the same training as career firefighters.

        Citing figures from the state fire marshal’s office, Rezabek said there are 467 volunteer fire departments in the state.

        “If we staffed each department with only two firefighters (best practice says four should be on staff at all times) 24 hours a day, and we paid them each a minimum wage of $8.30 per hour, that works out to approximately $67 million per year,” he said. “In contrast, if all 11,292 volunteers around the state apply for the highest credit ($2,000) that would be approximately $22 million per year. That comes to a savings of $45 million.”

        Analysis by the legislative service commission, projects the tax credit would reduce revenue from the state personal income tax by up to $62 million in fiscal 2019, assuming the bill is in effect for tax year 2018. The state general revenue fund would bear almost 97 percent of any such revenue loss.

        Heidi Fought, of the Ohio Township Association, testified that, “…reasonable financial incentives for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel serve as important recruitment and retention tools for local emergency response departments who are struggling to meet increased demand.”

        Of the total volunteer firefighters, 95 percent work in communities with populations of 25,000 or less, she said.

       

 

 

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