Tax credit would help recruit, retain staff

A proposed provincial tax credit would provide more help for volunteer firefighters than a similar scheme promoted in the federal budget, said Penhold’s fire chief.

A proposed provincial tax credit would provide more help for volunteer firefighters than a similar scheme promoted in the federal budget, said Penhold’s fire chief.

Jim Pendergast introduced a resolution at a recent Alberta Fire Chiefs Association conference in Red Deer that was unanimously endorsed by fire chiefs. The resolution calls on the association to lobby the provincial government for a $3,000 provincial tax credit for volunteer firefighters who have been on the force for a full calendar year.

The initiative is meant to provide an incentive to help volunteer firefighters keep their numbers up. Volunteer recruitment and retention has been an ongoing issue for fire departments and an association report on the issue targets tax credits as a key strategy.

Fire chiefs will lobby provincial officials and government ministers when they meet to encourage them to adopt the tax break.

Pendergast is optimistic the initiative will find welcoming ears. There were a number of government ministers and MLAs at the fire chiefs conference.

“They understand it’s a very difficult time for volunteer fire departments to recruit and retain volunteers,” he said.

In some communities, volunteer numbers were down so much that departments had to disband.

On Hwy 63 to Fort McMurray, the province had to step in this year to pay four full-time firefighters to support volunteers from Plamondon and Wandering River who had pulled their service, citing exhaustion.

Although a $3,000 tax credit is part of Monday’s federal budget, that incentive, worth about $450, falls short for many volunteers, he said.

“There are a lot of rules to it. It’s not cut and dry.”

Under the federal tax break, only volunteers with 200 hours of service can qualify. Many volunteers for small fire departments — training a couple of nights a month and responding to several dozen calls — would be hard-pressed to come up with 200 hours, he said.

Also, volunteers who receive any kind of payment or honourarium are not eligible for the credit. They can write off $1,000 worth of earnings under a separate federal program.

Pendergast said a provincial tax credit, with fewer strings attached, would be more useful for most of Alberta’s volunteers. He would like to see it in place as early as the fall so it can be applied to the next tax year.

“A vast, vast majority of the volunteer firefighters won’t be eligible for the federal one,” he said.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com