Bill gives firefighters a break

Oklahoma City- A bill providing a tax break to Oklahoma's volunteer firefighters passed out of a state House committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 1597, by Rep. Jerry McPeak, creates “the Oklahoma Volunteer Firefighter Incentive Act of 2005.”

“The people that are serving as volunteer firefighters deserve to get some kind of break,” said McPeak, D-Warner. “They're not making $100,000 a year. They are volunteers who put their lives on the line.”

Under the bill's provisions, volunteer firefighters would receive a $200 tax exemption for each year of service with the deduction taken from the individual's gross income before taxes are calculated.

The tax exemption would be granted to any volunteer firefighter who has completed at least 12 credited hours at a Volunteer Firefighter Practices program offered by Oklahoma State University Fire Service Training.

Fiscal analysts estimate Oklahoma's volunteer firefighters will collectively enjoy $381,000 in annual tax savings if House Bill 1597 becomes law, based on an average of five years of service and a $1,000 tax exemption.

The bill would also exempt volunteer firefighters from paying fees for hunting and fishing licenses. Assuming every one of the state's volunteer firefighters participates, officials expect the license fee waiver will save firefighters a combined $260,000 per year.

McPeak said the $641,000 price tag of his proposal is a small price to pay for the services provided by the thousands of volunteer firefighters in Oklahoma.

“Across most of Oklahoma, if the volunteer firefighters weren't there, insurance rates would go sky-high,” McPeak said. “Those men and women save millions and millions of dollars for us, but most of us sit on our hands and do nothing in return. We just enjoy the insurance savings while those volunteers sacrifice their family time and get no compensation. This is a way we can give back to them for the service that they do.”

The ratings insurance companies assign areas are influenced by proximity to fire departments and can result in significant savings on homeowners insurance. In many cases, having a volunteer fire department can generate savings of well over 35 percent on insurance policies.

In 2002, state officials estimated the existence of volunteer fire departments saved Oklahomans more than $33 million per year in insurance costs.

Out of 950 fire departments in the state, roughly 450 are volunteer departments.

 

House Bill 1597 passed out of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday and is now headed for a vote of the 101-member Oklahoma House of Representatives.

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