Parkland Press

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Volunteer fire companies are vital to Pa. communities

Thursday, April 11, 2013 by RYAN MACKENZIE state Rep. 134th in Opinion

Because volunteer fire companies play a vital role in communities across Pennsylvania and deserve support in their efforts to combine resources to better serve their residents, I was pleased my legislation, House Bill 465, recently passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

This bill, if enacted, would exempt them from realty transfer taxes as defined under Act 2 of 1971, known as the Tax Reform Code.

I believe it is both fitting and appropriate to give volunteer fire and rescue companies exemption status because many of them have taken steps to merge or consolidate to save on resources, including three Berks County fire companies within the 134th Legislative District.

Under current law, however, volunteer fire companies that do so are not exempt from the realty transfer tax, which imposes an expensive burden on these nonprofit organizations.

The commonwealth currently collects a realty transfer tax, imposed at the rate of 1 percent on the value of the real estate being transferred by deed, instrument, long-term lease or other writing.

Both the grantor and grantee are held jointly liable for payment of this tax; and counties can impose an additional local realty transfer tax. Measures in House Bill 465 would exempt volunteer fire companies and volunteer rescue companies from the realty transfer tax when merging or consolidating, or just conducting a normal sale or acquisition of real estate.

The state fire commissioner has been encouraging volunteer fire and rescue companies to merge as a way to increase public safety in communities across the state, as well as to quicken response times and generate better avenues for emergency personnel training.

When these organizations are doing so, however, they find that they are being penalized with these taxes and my legislation aims to eliminate that problem.

Currently, some real estate transfers are exempt from the realty transfer tax, including transfers among family members, governmental units, religious organizations, shareholders or partners, and to or from nonprofit industrial development agencies. My legislation now awaits consideration in the Senate.

In an effort to help offset additional costs of our volunteer fire and emergency response organizations, I also encourage volunteer fire companies to continue taking advantage of a few state grants that are offered in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, 15 volunteer fire and emergency response organizations within portions of Berks and Lehigh counties in the 134th Legislative District were awarded nearly $120,000 in state funding under an ongoing grant program created by the Legislature and administered by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

These grants help support our local organizations in their mission of protecting the public because they are able to use this money for construction or renovation of a fire or ambulance company facility, purchase or repair of equipment, training, or reduction of existing debt.

During the 2011-2012 legislative session, lawmakers voted to both extend and expand the decade-old program by increasing the total grant funding from $25 million to $30 million. All funding for these grants is authorized by Act 78 of 2012.

I also encourage volunteer fire companies serving rural areas and communities with fewer than 10,000 residents and where forest and brush fires are common to apply for grants of up to $7,500 for training and equipment purchases directly related to fighting brush and forest fires.

Funds from the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant Program, administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, may be used for purchasing mobile or portable radios, installing dry hydrants, performing wildfire prevention and mitigation work, training wildfire fighters, or converting and maintaining federal excess vehicles to be used for fire suppression.

This department is giving priority to requests for projects that include the purchase of wildfire suppression equipment and protective clothing.

Last year, more than $540,000 was awarded to 141 volunteer fire companies, including Eastern Berks Fire Department in Barto, which received $7,500; Hereford Volunteer Fire Co., in Hereford, $7,500; and Western Salisbury Volunteer Fire Co., in Allentown, $4,050.

The grant program, offered through the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and paid through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, has awarded almost $10 million since it began in 1982.

Grant applications must be electronically submitted through the department's eGrant webpage by 4 p.m. May 23. Applicants should visit dcnr.state.pa.us and click on "Apply for Grants."

For more legislative information, please visit my website at RepMackenzie.com or follow my legislative Facebook page at Facebook.com/ RepMackenzie.