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By BETH ZUMWALT
Included in the Illinois 2023 state budget was Senate Bill 2253. The bill allows a $500 Illinois income tax credit for volunteer emergency workers who volunteer for at least 9 months of the calendar year and serve as a member of a fire department, of a fire protection district, municipality, or other unit of government, and receive no more than $10,000 per year for their service.
The purpose of SB 2253 is to incentivize more people to volunteer for volunteer fire departments.
“Many volunteer fire departments in rural areas are having trouble finding and retaining firefighters,” Jil Tracy, Illinois State Senator for the 50th District, which includes Pike County, said.
Tracy introduced a similar bill last session that included a $1,000 tax deduction, but the bill never made it out of committee.
Tracy said the opposition to the bill was the amount of lost revenue by the state, but said incentivizing the volunteers was worth the cost.
The Department of Revenue estimates that the tax credit would cost the State between $11 and $13 million per year. The Illinois Firefighters Association indicates that there are approximately 20,000 to 25,000 volunteer firefighters across the State of Illinois, making their estimate similar, between $10 million and $12.5 million per year.
New York, Iowa and Maryland all offer tax incentives to their volunteers.
Cory Winchell, chief of Pleasant Hill Fire Department hopes the bill will work as intended.
“We used to have 30 firefighters and now we have 14,” Winchell said. “Nobody wants to do any volunteer work anymore. They want us to be there when they need us, but they don’t want to help. Maybe an incentive will help.”
Ryan Moore, chief at East Pike, said his department is currently happy with their 15 volunteers.
“It’s the best we’ve had in five years. I’m not saying if a good candidate would apply, we would refuse, but we are in good shape,” said Moore.
Josh Martin of Nebo said his department is at full capacity right now, but he, too, would entertain the idea of an addition if a good candidate would present themselves.
All three fire chiefs said they were happy for the tax break to encourage people to join, but also, for the guys who have served faithfully throughout the years.