Act 172 provides incentive

A law that took effect in mid-January authorizing municipalities to grant a local tax credit to volunteer emergency responders provides an opportunity consistent with current realities.

This being a time when men and women increasingly are hard-pressed to find the hours needed for such important volunteer service, the new law — Act 172 — provides incentive for more of them to try to juggle their tight schedules vigorously to make themselves available.

It’s not a new phenomenon that volunteer fire companies and other volunteer emergency services are facing tough challenges in attracting new members. The problem has been growing for decades as more men and women have had to work longer workdays, travel more in connection with their jobs and, in some households, work two — or even more — jobs to make ends meet.

In the case of volunteer firefighters, the days when more than a couple could be seen on virtually any weekday evening at the local fire station performing maintenance or participating in routine training activities have continued to dwindle.

Even when the fire whistle sounds, some volunteer companies are forced to respond initially with manpower not really adequate for the emergency at hand.

With Act 172 now in effect, a window for overcoming such challenges has opened, but that window can’t produce results without action by municipal officials.

For Act 172 to achieve its desired impact, municipal bodies such as borough councils and township boards of supervisors must pass ordinances authorizing the tax credits and setting the credit amounts.

Credits under the law don’t apply to county or school taxes.

According to a front-page article in Sunday’s Mirror, credits can apply to a municipality’s income tax and/or property tax, although the property tax credit can be no more than 20 percent of taxes owed.

Meanwhile, it must be said that the tax credits should not necessarily apply to everyone on a volunteer emergency service’s membership roster. Members unable or unwilling to respond regularly to emergencies shouldn’t be eligible for the credits.

At the time they grant approval for the credits, municipalities should establish a percentage of responses that make a man or woman eligible for the tax benefits.

While it can be said that people shouldn’t need a tax credit to encourage them to volunteer, realities of the times make new membership-attracting options like “172” a matter of sound judgment.

Although the new law doesn’t mandate local-level municipalities to offer the credits, an increasing number are likely to do so if other municipalities are successful in upping their volunteer participation with them.

Anyone willing to accept the dangers inherent in volunteer emergency service merits the gratitude of all in their community. Just like with paid responders, whenever volunteers respond to a call, they put their own lives and well-being on the line, as well as the well-being of their family.

All considered, implementing tax credits is the least municipalities can do to try to have adequate emergency help available when the need occurs.

Based on how long staffing problems have existed, it’s too bad it took so long for the tax-credit option to become available.