April 12, 2004

Fire company issues

The Town Board meeting was held at Neptune Fire Hall because of an awards presentation, on the Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP). Robert Barber of McNeil & Company came from Cortland to explain the program, a defined contribution program where the town would make a contribution to a fund and volunteer firefighters would eventually receive a pension-like benefit, kind of like a 401(k) program.

Bob Barber explains the LOSAP program
Bob Barber explains the LOSAP program to the Town Board

The town's contribution and the payout would depend on a point system, likely based on a point system sample McNeil passed out at the meeting. The board can tweak the point system, though McNeil suggested that modifying the sample too dramatically might increase the board's exposure to complaints or liability. Councilmen Michaels and Stelick sounded like they'd like to have the companies come together on the points system.

Doug Cotterill of Cotterill Insurance had started on an informal census of eligible firefighters, finding about 60 at Neptune Hose, 30 at Varna, and 25 at Freeville. (He hadn't yet done one for Etna.) Based on that and a $240 contribution, he estimated the likely annual cost based on a system like the sample at around $25,000 for Neptune, and around $45,000-$50,000 total.

Barber asked the town to come up with "a level of funding that you anticipate that you could make," to simply the process of designing a program. Once the program is designed, 60% of the board would have to vote for it (a simple majority on a five-person board), and there would have to be a referendum before the plan was adopted. If it was adopted, there'd be an enrollment period with a formal census. The town would sponsor and contribute to the fund, and the fire companies would have to provide information on points earned by their members. Lists approved by the chiefs would be posted for thirty days before being submitted to the town. It would have to cover all departments in the district if approved.

The board didn't take formal action on the proposal - there's more work to be done sorting out the details - but sounded broadly supportive of the proposal.

Later in the meeting (and off the agenda), Councilman Christofferson brought up an addendum to this year's fire contracts. The addendum would modify the terms of the Neptune, W.B. Strong, Varna, Etna, and Brooktondale contracts. (Varna has already signed and returned the contract.)

Christofferson's addendum would modify the audit clause, stating that the town has to pay for all costs of any audit, without the limit in the original contract. Christofferson said the language in the current contracts wasn't the same as last year, though this was the first Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins had heard of it. The other clause modifies the requirement that capital funds be treated as separate funds by permitting fire companies to borrow against them "for emergency and unforeseen major expenses" with the approval of their board, with no terms set for repayment.

Hattery, Michaels, and Trumbull during contract discussions
Hattery, Michaels, and Trumbull confer during discussion of fire contracts.

The board, apart from Christofferson, didn't seem to be in a rush to make these changes. Michaels pointed out that rent for a temporary building was the only case "after a lot of discussion" that anyone had come up with that wasn't actually a capital expense.

Christofferson replied that "it's now April, and as a matter of expediency... if these are things that people have all agreed to, and there's a concern about clarity in the contract, instead of taking another month here, a month there, a month there, to get the language cleaned up, we leave the existing contract as is and add this addendum, so we don't have to approve another contract and go back and forth with the companies."

Michaels had heard of some issues Neptune had, especially around the capital reserve issue. Attorney Perkins was concerned about Christofferson's proposed revision to clause 17, feeling that the costs of the auditor were already covered, and that the limit of $1000 provided a cap, and "I'd just want to make sure that this doesn't mean we'll pay any amount they present us with."

Perkins asked about the lack of terms for the boards to repay borrowing against capital reserves. Christofferson suggested that "borrowing means paying it back. It's not taking it out and not paying it back. Does it need to be paid in the same year, or a couple years, whatever - I think fire boards will hopefully do due diligence to pay that back."

Michaels was also concerned that borrowing should only happen for large expenses, noting that "borrowing $1000 against these funds is ridiculous."

Christofferson replied that "my concern is that it gets worked out, like tomorrow."

Michaels asked for clarification that it get paid back, and the board authorized Supervisor Trumbull and Attorney Perkins to negotiate further with the fire companies.

Posted by simon at April 12, 2004 10:17 PM in , ,
Note on photos


Visitor Anon said:

http://nysosc3.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/muni/perf/01ps2bod.htm (full text in one page)

http://nysosc3.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/muni/perf/2001ps2.htm (multiple page format)

Effect of Service Award Programs on Recruitment and Retention

As noted, service award programs are intended to facilitate recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters by providing municipally funded, pension-like benefits based on an individual's length of volunteer firefighting service. One of the objectives of this study was to assess the success that service award programs have had in achieving these goals. Based on our review of enrollment trends and discussions with local government officials, it appears that, aside from an initial spike in membership following the establishment of a service award program, the programs may not be effective in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters.