Local emergency services officials are hopeful the Wisconsin Legislature will act on a pair of proposals to offer tax incentives to attract and retain volunteers.
“Anything we can get to help is great,” said John Berning, Hazel Green’s fire chief.
One bipartisan proposal pending in committee would offer a credit of $20 per hour spent on training, in classes or active duty. That would be good for up to $1,000.
It also offers up to $400 in credits for expenses for equipment and mileage responding to calls that otherwise wouldn’t be reimbursed.
Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, is one of several co-sponsors of the bill.
“This would be a nice gesture, if nothing else, to demonstrate how much we appreciate the good work that they do and put a little money in their pocket to help offset some of the personal costs that I’m sure they endure in order to serve,” Tranel said.
Wisconsin Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, and Sens. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green and Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, did not respond to requests seeking comment for this story.
Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, also has proposed a bill that would make fire and EMS volunteers eligible for a flat $300 credit if they have served five to nine years with a department, and a $600 credit if they have served 10 years or more.
That credit would not be available to people who live in the state part-time or who are age 65 or older.
A staff member for Pronschinske said via email that legislators are in talks to combine elements of the two proposals into one bill.
Wisconsin Rep. Loren Oldenburg, R-Viroqua, told the Telegraph Herald that he supports both proposals.
Cassville Fire Chief Ron Hampton also said he supports both ideas, and he thinks they will help encourage more volunteering. He said he’s met with Pronschinske, who is a volunteer firefighter, to talk about it.
However, Hampton said he is concerned about excluding older volunteers, who still contribute to local departments.
“We need to make sure we take care of them, too,” Hampton said.
Hampton and Berning also volunteer with their local ambulance services. Both agreed it’s difficult to retain new volunteers — especially those who are available on weekdays — for both fire and ambulance services.
Residents with young families have a lot of demand on their free time already, and a lot of people commute to larger cities for work.
Hampton said getting the necessary training is a considerable time commitment for those already working 40 hours per week.
“We can’t reimburse them for time away from home,” he said. “That’s where a lot of services struggle.”