Tax breaks for firefighters?

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Chief says incentives needed for volunteers

By Damon Lawrence

Counties often use tax breaks to attract businesses.

West Roane County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charlie Redwine said he sees another use for tax breaks.

“If we can do it for businesses, I don’t see why we can’t do it for volunteer firefighters,” he said.

Roane County has five volunteer fire departments.

Redwine said he believes offering property tax breaks would help with recruitment and retention of  volunteer firefighters.

“I realize one person might own half the county, but this would just be on the place of residence where the firefighter lives,” Redwine said. “A lot of firefighters might rent somewhere, and if they do, the property owner could be given a tax break as long as he forwards it on to that firefighter’s rent.”

Redwine said he’s not asking that the tax break come without any conditions.

“If you give them that incentive, it would have to come with some stipulations,” he said. “They’d have to make a certain percentage of fire calls, meetings and training.”

Redwine said the need for manpower is the reason behind the idea.

“We got to do something,” he said. “We’re extremely short on volunteers.”

Setting up a program to offer people property tax breaks for volunteer firefighting isn’t as simple as getting the Roane County Commission to pass a resolution.

County Executive Ron Woody spent years as a consultant with the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service.

He said the state law doesn’t allow counties to give property tax breaks to volunteer firefighters.  

“County governments are setup that all we can do is what the state law allows us to do,” Woody said. “If they were to change the state law to allow that than it would be permissible, but the law does not have that provision in it right now.”

The only group that can make state laws is the Tennessee General Assembly. They adjourned on April 19, and don’t plan to convene again until Jan. 14, 2014.

“We got to do somethings,” Redwine said. “They don’t get paid a penny. They have to take time out of their lives to do this stuff, and they’re getting very hard to find.”