$250 Property Tax Rebate from Northampton County for Volunteer Firefighters, EMS Approved

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Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Council recently approved a tax rebate for volunteer firefighters and emergency-medical squad crew members. Specifically, eligible firefighters and EMS volunteers will get a property tax rebate from Northampton County of $250.

Property tax rebate from Northampton County: is it legal?

Last week, the council voted 7-1 to approve the one-time “Active Volunteer Real Estate Tax Credit Ordinance.”

“The purpose of this ordinance is to acknowledge the value and dedication of volunteer fire protection and EMS services provided by active volunteers and to encourage others to become involved,” the text of the ordinance read.

Although the objective of the rebate is to encourage more people to work as volunteer firefighters and EMS staff, many claim the ordinance isn’t legal as it violates the State of Pennsylvania Constitution’s Uniformity Clause.

The Uniformity Clause requires everyone to be taxed the same, but the new ordinance would tax people in the same class differently. Those who oppose the ordinance argue that if some people are asked to pay less, others may have to pay more. Also, such an ordinance may push others to seek a similar break.

Still, the ordinance is expected to overcome the legal challenge. Eligible fire and EMS volunteers could still get a $250 property tax rebate from Northampton County. This amount is almost half of the $500 average county property tax bill.

Who gets the rebate?

It must be noted that the rebate from Northampton County applies only to county taxes and not to local or school district payments. Also, this rebate is available only to volunteers. Renters who volunteer won’t get the rebate as it is only good for property tax.

Fire chiefs and EMS managers will have the authority to determine who is eligible for the rebate. A financial penalty will be levied on the head of a group if they falsely add friends and family who have not served to the list.

The ordinance requires the fire company or EMS squad to maintain a record or membership log, which will be periodically reviewed by the Northampton County Board of Commissioners.

The rebate will go only to those whom the active volunteer’s fire company chief or nonprofit EMS agency chief or manager certify that they are an active volunteer officer of the fire company or nonprofit EMS agency or have participated in at least three emergency calls in a year.

If a volunteer who qualifies for the property tax rebate from Northampton County gets hurt during an emergency call and is unable to serve, they would still get the rebate for five years, totaling $1,250.

The ordinance includes an appeals process for the volunteer. If a volunteer is denied the rebate, he or she can seek arbitration. However, the volunteer seeking arbitration would have to pay half of the costs, which could wipe out the benefit the volunteer may receive after winning the appeal.