For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Halvonik 717-787-1381
Auditor General Jack Wagner Calls for Action on Legislation
To Benefit Volunteer Firefighters’ Relief Associations
HARRISBURG (June 12, 2008) -- Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that legislation (House Bill 488, Senate Bill 93 and Senate Bill 375) that would streamline the process for Volunteer Firefighters’ Relief Associations (VFRA) to maintain tax exempt status with the Department of Revenue deserves full support to pass this legislative session.
“Bureaucratic red-tape should not stand in the way of VFRAs’ striving to perform their vitally important function of protecting those who safeguard the commonwealth’s residents and their property,” Wagner said. “I urge the General Assembly to pass this worthwhile and necessary legislation before the end of the session; otherwise, we are back to square one of trying to help these community volunteers.”
Under current law, VFRAs must file with the Department of Revenue for an initial state sales tax exemption certification and are then required to renew their tax exempt status every five years. The Department of the Auditor General frequently finds that VFRAs overlook their tax exemption renewal. The change would have no effect on revenue and would result in fewer audit citations by the Department of the Auditor General to allow firefighters to focus on protecting and keeping communities safe.
Many public, not-for-profit organizations are not required to update their tax exemption certifications every five years. VFRAs perform a vital public role and deserve the same consideration, said Wagner.
VFRAs are non-profit organizations established to afford financial protection to volunteer firefighters who suffer misfortune as a result of their participation in the fire service. VFRAs receive state aid from a 2-percent state tax on fire insurance purchased by Pennsylvania residents from insurance companies incorporated outside of the commonwealth. These funds are used to pay for insurance to protect volunteer firefighters, to purchase fire equipment and to cover volunteer training expenses. VFRAs are distinct separate legal entities from fire companies.
The Department of the Auditor General is responsible for auditing to make sure VFRA funds are spent according to state law. The department also conducts workshops to help local firefighters comply with VFRA regulations.
Wagner's strong support for first responders and commitment to public safety issues dates back to his own employment as an Emergency Medical Technician, working his way through Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"I understand first-hand and have a deep respect for what volunteers do for our communities across the commonwealth," Wagner said.
The Department of the Auditor General distributed on behalf of the commonwealth more than $67 million to 1,967 local VFRAs in 2007.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits, and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts approximately 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department’s website at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.