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Flemington researching fire relief tax

Could create volunteer incentive

FLEMINGTON –Flemington Borough Council is looking for ways to get more residents to join Goodwill Hose Fire Company.

On Thursday night, council talked about a fire relief tax as one way to offer residents an incentive to become volunteer members of the fire company.

Act 172 of 2016 is the proposed ordinance which would allow borough council to enact a real estate tax credit or earned income tax credit for emergency service crews that live in Flemington.

The real estate tax credit is limited to 20 percent of the municipal real estate tax liability for residential real property owned and occupied as the domicile of an active volunteer.

The volunteer would pay their municipal tax bill and then file an application for the credit to the borough, according to the guidelines of Act 172. If it’s approved, the borough would write a check for the amount and issue it to the volunteer as a tax rebate, it continues.

Earned income tax credit is similar but operates on a flat amount instead of a percentage.

Council has the ability to update and change the eligibility guidelines as they see fit.

The ordinance was first brought to council by a member of the fire company who asked council to consider it, borough secretary Charity Walizer-Etters said.

Goodwill Hose Fire Company, like many in the county, is struggling to increase its volunteer count and stay afloat.

Fire Chief Gary Mellott — who also serves on council — said times are tough.

“You’ve got to do so much work just to keep the doors open,” he said, listing typical expenses such as utilities, insurance, training and equipment costs.

“All you get is fundraising, fundraising, fundraising and it burns people out,” he said. In 2019 the company completed 2,608 hours which included fundraising and calls for service, he said.

All members of council agreed the ordinance and tax relief could offer an incentive for members of the community to volunteer.

Mellott said Goodwill Hose currently has six active members who live and own property in the borough.

Councilman David Grimm said the the 20 percent tax on average would earn between $12 to $18 a year per firefighter.

This would come out to about $1 to $1.50 per month, he said.

He asked if there was another option to cut down on the amount of paperwork for the borough.

“I know it’s encouraging people to join the fire company but it seems like a lot of paperwork for a buck, buck and a half,” he said.

Mellott said many of the volunteers would be willing to bypass the tax relief and instead have the money submitted to the fire company as a donation.

He added that they understand the relief is a thank you for their service but money isn’t why they volunteer.

“I honestly think instead of trying to help tax-wise, we’d rather it just go right to the fire company because we’re not here for ourselves, we’re here for the community,” he said.

The donations could help offset costs for equipment which can have a high price tag.

Goodwill Hose has to purchase four sets of turnout gear that are expiring soon, he said, adding that the cost per gear is typically over $1,000 and doesn’t include helmets or air masks, he said.

“Four pants and coats, that’s all that it gets,” he said.

Although he wasn’t certain the exact life span of the turn out gear he did say they have expiration dates that must be followed.

Costs for replacement of gear, repairs to the rescue vehicles and training add up.

“We’re just applying for all the (grants) we can and are doing whatever we can” to pay for the items and repairs, Mellott said.

Allison motioned to table the ordinance while they gather more information about the tax relief as well as other options they could explore to help the fire company.

All members of council were present for Thursday night’s meeting.

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