In addition to three questions on proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the May 18 primary election ballot also features a referendum regarding low-interest loans for municipal fire and ambulance companies staffed with paid personnel.
The Commonwealth already has a loan program in place that was established in 1976 to provide funding support for volunteer emergency response organizations. The referendum simply asks voters if they support expanding eligibility for the program to include municipal fire and ambulance companies staffed with paid personnel. A “yes” vote would not result in additional debt for the state, as there is ample funding available now to support the need for loans.
The fund is self-sustaining and currently provides loans at 2% interest to volunteer first responder organizations. Funding may be used for upgrading or expanding fire stations, as well as purchasing emergency vehicles or equipment. Each organization is capped at three open loans at a time and must show unencumbered funds in the amount of 20% of the project.
If approved, it is estimated the referendum would result in 40 additional fire departments becoming eligible for loans from the fund. The bill placing the question on the ballot was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives and Senate.
TARAH TOOHIL represents the 116th District in the state House of Representatives.