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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

Increase Loan Amounts for Volunteer Emergency Services

Emergency ServicesHouse Bill 1706 (HB 1706), which passed the Senate last week, would provide volunteer emergency service organizations some much needed financial flexibility and relief.  This legislation would double the amount of state loans to help various volunteer fire companies, ambulance service and rescue squads buy equipment.  Furthermore, it also gives loan incentives to companies that merge or consolidate.  The passing of this legislation comes just in time as more and more emergency service organizations are finding it difficult to maintain a steady stream of volunteers to continue serving their communities.  

HB 1706 increases loan amounts available for volunteer fire and ambulance companies under the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (VLAP).  In particular, these loans provide assistance to financially challenged volunteer emergency service companies to purchase life-saving equipment and make updates to their facilities.  VLAP’s loan amounts have not been updated since 1984 and the passing of this legislation ensures that the loans granted under this program are more up to date with today’s growing costs. 

Loans are increased as follows:

  • Establishing and modernizing facilities - increased from $200,000 to $400,000, or 50 percent of the total cost, whichever is less
  • Purchasing apparatus, ambulances, etc. - increased from $100,000 to $200,000, or 50 percent of the total cost, whichever is less

  • Aerial apparatus - increased from up to $150,000 to up to $300,000
  • Ambulance or light duty rescue vehicle - increased from up to $50,000 to up to $100,000
  • Watercraft rescue vehicle - increased from up to $15,000 to up to $30,000, or 50 percent of the cost of the vehicle, whichever is less
  • Purchasing protective equipment, etc. - increased from up to $10,000 to up to $20,000
  • Repair of apparatus equipment - increased from $1,000-$35,000 to at least $2,000- $70,000, or 80 percent of cost, whichever is less
  • Purchasing used apparatus - increased from $60,000 to $120,000, or 80 percent of cost, whichever is less
  • Purchase of PennFIRS (reporting system hardware and software) - a one-time only loan is increased from up to $2,000 to up to $4,000, or 75 percent of cost, whichever is less
  • Purchase of equipment manufactured/assembled in Pennsylvania – increased from $10,000 to $20,000

Loans of up to $30,000 will be for a period of up to 10 years while loans between $30,000 and $100,000 will be for not more than 15 years. 

This legislation also adds that a volunteer emergency service company would not be eligible for more than three agency loans at one time.  In an effort to encourage companies to consolidate or merge into one single entity, the law will now permit this entity to be eligible for no more than 10 agency loans at one time for a period of 10 years from the date in which they merged into one entity. 

HB 1706 passed the General Assembly unanimously and will now provide these essential organizations the tools and flexibility they need to continue to serve the people in the community.  I was pleased to support this legislation as it represents a thoughtful and comprehensive approach in assisting these volunteer organizations with the challenges they currently face. 

Free Tax Preparation Campaign Needs Volunteers

The United Way of Allegheny County in partnership with the Money in Your Pocket Coalition is recruiting and seeking volunteer tax preparers to support the 2014 Free Tax Preparation Campaign.  About two hundred volunteers are needed to prepare returns beginning in January.  The Free Tax Preparation Campaign assists low-wage earning families and individuals in filing their federal, state and local tax returns, maximizing their refunds by claiming valuable federal and state tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).  The Campaign is administered by the Money in Your Pocket Coalition, an alliance of non-profit agencies committed to helping low-income workers and their families access the federal EITC.

Individuals who are comfortable using a computer and working with people are eligible to volunteer and no prior tax preparation experience is necessary.  United Way and the Money in Your Pocket Coalition will provide the necessary training, including both in-person and online training modules.  At the conclusion of training, volunteers must pass an IRS certification test and will then be scheduled according to the most convenient hours and locations.  Trained volunteers commit to at least three hours each week during tax season.

This year, fourteen tax preparation sites will be open throughout the region, operating during day, evening and weekend hours.  Training, which will begin in January, is based on the level of the volunteer’s experience and the site in which they intend to work.  If you are interested in volunteering, please visit www.pghfreetaxes.org to learn more about the program and to register online.  Volunteers must be registered by December 27th.  If you have further questions or need assistance with registering to volunteer, please contact Suelynn Shiller at sshiller@uwac.org.

If you would like to make an appointment to receive free tax preparation assistance from a volunteer, appointments will be accepted beginning on January 9th.  To make an appointment, please dial 2-1-1, the free, 24-hour health and human services hotline powered by the United Way.  To qualify for the free tax preparation program, total family income must be less than $40,000 per year and total individual income must be less than $20,000 per year.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in 2013, 149 IRS-certified volunteers prepared more than 5,800 tax returns and delivered $10 million in refunds back to local residents?

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Reminder

Property TaxI want to remind everyone that the deadline to file for a property tax or rent rebate through the PA Property Tax & Rent Rebate Program is December 31st.  Property tax/rent rebate applications must be postmarked no later than December 31st to be considered. 

If you are a Pennsylvanian age 65 and older, a person with a disability 18 and older, or a widow or widower age 50 and older, you may be eligible.  Income limits are $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters.  The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can increase rebate amounts.  You can stop by any of my district offices to get a claim form (PA-1000), receive help in completing your application, and check on the status of your claim.

You may also check the status of claims by visiting the PA Department of Revenue website or by calling 1-888-PATAXES.  The program is supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

529 College Savings – 2013 Tax Benefits

PA 529As 2013 winds down, I want to make you aware that opening or contributing to a Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Account before December 31st can help reduce your 2013 PA state taxable income while assisting a loved one pay for college.  The PA 529 College Savings Program offers two distinct plans, the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan and the PA 529 Investment Plan.

Families who contribute before the end of this year can take advantage of Pennsylvania’s income tax deduction.  Contributions up to $14,000 per beneficiary can be deducted from PA taxable income and married couples filing jointly can deduct up to $28,000 per beneficiary, provided each spouse has taxable income of at least $14,000.

To encourage more families to save for college in a tax-advantaged way, the PA 529 College Savings Program is offering free enrollment, a $50 savings, for all new PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan accounts opened by December 31st.  There is no enrollment fee for the PA529 Investment Plan.

To learn more about these savings plans or to enroll online, please visit www.pa529.com.  If opening a new PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan online, use the code “TAX2013” when prompted to take advantage of the free enrollment.  You may also call 1-800-440-4000 or email pa529@patreasury.gov to ask specific questions about both plans.

Blue lightProject Blue Light

The Pennsylvania State Police is encouraging all Pennsylvanians to once again participate in Project Blue Light this year.  Project Blue Light recognizes police officers, nationwide, who have died in the line of duty.  To participate, residents and business owners can simply display a blue light in their home or office window during the holiday season to remember the fallen law enforcement officers and their survivors.  The color blue is symbolic of peace and the display of a blue light shows support to active officers and honors those who have been killed in the line of duty.  This project was developed by Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), a national non-profit organization that represents more than 15,000 families of officers killed in the line of duty.

First Night

Pittsburgh Cultural TrustThe Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is once again producing First Night Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve.  This year’s celebration marks the 20th Anniversary of First Night Pittsburgh and the 11th as a production of the Cultural Trust.  As the largest single-day celebration in the region, First Night offers approximately 150 events at nearly 50 indoor and outdoor locations within Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.  This family-friendly event provides the city the opportunity to ring in the New Year with a bang while celebrating Pittsburgh’s rich cultural assets including dance, music, theater, comedy, magic, visual art and film.

First Night Pittsburgh kicks off at 6 p.m. with a fireworks show for children and concludes with the countdown to midnight, the raising of The Future of Pittsburgh Ball and another fireworks display at midnight.  To view the many activities taking place during First Night and for a full schedule of events, information on all-access admission buttons and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.firstnightpgh.org.

GeekadromeBrookline Business Feature

This week’s featured Brookline business is the Geekadrome, located at 534 Brookline Boulevard.  Geekadrome offers customers a wide variety of comic books, action figures, card and board games and various collectables.  They are open Monday – Friday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  For more information on their inventory you may call Geekadrome at 412-344-2494 or visit them on Facebook.  Please continue to support local merchants during the Brookline Boulevard Streetscape Project and remember:

Brookline is open for business!

SnowFontana Fact

On this day, December 17th, in 1890, 22 inches of snow fell on the city of Pittsburgh, marking the 2nd highest one-day snowfall total in the city’s history according to the National Weather Service based on records since 1884.  It was also part of the 2nd largest snow storm in the city’s history, which took place between December 16th and 18th in 1890.  During those three days, 25.9 inches of snow fell in Pittsburgh.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz.
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
Property Tax PA 529 Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Geekadrome United Way Taxes