Bill A 7552 / S 4207-A has passed the Assembly and Senate.
This bill increases the Defined Contribution service award from $700 to $1,200. Now, we wait for the Governor to sign it into law.
When the law was amended to increase the contribution from $480 to $700, the Governor had not signed the bill into law by the time most Fire Districts had to adopt the resolution to have the proposition on the December Commissioner's election. The same thing may happen this year. Any Fire District (or Village or Town) wishing to amend the program effective 1/1/2020 to reflect an increase in the contribution may have to put a stipulation in the resolution an proposition that the increase is contingent on the Governor signing the bill into law.
Contact us with any questions!
We are tracking two bills that are being considered during the final days of the legislative session. The session was scheduled to end today (Wednesday 6/19) but there are indications that it may be extended to the end of the week.
The first bill is A 7276 / S 5895, which would increase the maximum years of service credit that can be earned from 40 years to 50 years. The Senate version has been passed by the Senate; the Assembly version has been referred to the local government committee. It is possible the Assembly will pass their bill before the session ends, but time is running out.
The second bill is A 7552 / S 4207-A, which would increase the Defined Contribution service award from $700 to $1,200. The Senate has passed its bill, and the Assembly version is making its way through the process. The Assembly version is currently on the calendar, and appears it will be moving towards being passed by the Assembly before the end of the session.
We will continue to keep an eye on this and inform you of developments.
I'm purposefully skipping to the end - to the last point system category. We'll circle back to the other three, leaving Miscellaneous to the end since it is sort of a "catch all" category.
(ix)Teaching fire prevention classes—five points maximum. An active volunteer firefighter who at the direction of his company, district or department, and for no remuneration, presents a public education class on fire prevention to a school, not-for-profit corporation, or civic organization organized and existing under the laws of this state or authorized to conduct activities in this state—one point per class.
This category was added to the Statute effective 9/24/2002. So any point system that was adopted prior to that date may not have this category.
This creates an interesting situation - based on audits from the Office of the State Comptroller, their view is essentially that once these activities were separated out into their own category, they ceased to be a Miscellaneous point and therefore in order for a volunteer to receive points for these activities, the category must be added by the sponsor to the adopted point system.
That leads us to another rabbit hole regarding how it should be added. We will cover that in a later post.
The important takeaway is if your point system does not have this category, volunteers cannot receive points for this activity under the Miscellaneous category, because it is no longer a Miscellaneous activity, which is defined as "Participation in inspections and other activities covered by the volunteer firefighters’ benefit law and not otherwise listed" (emphasis added). Now that teaching fire prevention classes is listed, it isn't a Miscellaneous activity.
The category itself is pretty straight forward. One of the difficulties that has come up is what to do about demonstrations that might happen during an open house, for example, during Recruit NY or other similar functions. If during an open house the fire department puts on some demonstrations about fire prevention, would that demonstration count as a point under this category? Or would just the entire day of being involved in the open house count in general as Miscellaneous point? Or even further, could someone get the Miscellaneous point and a Teaching point? All great questions!
The wording says it must be a public education class to a school, not-for-profit or civic organization. Would residents who show up to an open house be considered a "civic organization"? I think you could probably make that case, but that is a good question for your local attorney.
My local fire department has done a fire safety presentation for the Cub Scouts for years. That would certainly count as a Teaching point. So then would that same class given to same-aged kids who show up at an open house not? It would seem reasonable that if the mission is the same - public education class on fire prevention - that it would be reasonable to treat it as a Teaching point. But again, check with your local attorney first.
The next point system category is meetings:
(v)Attendance at meetings—twenty points maximum.
The biggest issue that surrounds the meeting category are what types of meetings qualify as a meeting for the purposes of this category.
The Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) has issued two legal opinions about the meeting category. Comptroller Opinion 94-25 states that meetings of an emergency rescue and first aid squad, fire police squad, or the executive board of a fire company, are not considered meetings for the purposes of this category. The reason given is that these meetings are not of the entire membership of the fire company.
The second is Opinion 95-9, states that committee meetings are not eligible for points under this category, neither are meetings of the fire district (i.e., commissioner meetings).
In both cases, the Opinions state that committee, squad, and executive board meetings could qualify for points under the Miscellaneous category.
It would appear reasonable that meetings would include department meetings as well. In one-company departments, this isn't a significant issue. However, for multi-company departments that hold a routine department-wide meeting, it appears reasonable to give a meeting point for department meetings as well. Although there isn't any direct guidance from the OSC on this issue.
The sign-in procedures are important for meetings, as well as drills and miscellaneous activities. Meetings is often where we hear about members signing-in other members on the attendance sheet. Everyone should sign themselves into a meeting. It should be a very rare and special circumstance when someone signs in another person, and there should be procedures for this (such as, the president and vice president must initial, and/or record that this is happening in the meeting minutes).
Another point that comes up often is what happens if someone does not attend the entire meeting - either shows up late or leaves early. There is no guidance on this issue, so each sponsor can make its own determination o the best practice here.
Yet another frequent question is what if there is a call during the meeting? Any active volunteer firefighter at the meeting and that is able to respond would then be given a response credit, since they were there and in theory was available to attend the call. In theory, the meeting point can also be earned, subject to any special rules the sponsor may make about not attending the complete meeting.
Finally, another "double-dipping" scenario is what if the department utilizes the sleep-in or stand-by category as a way to have volunteers on call, in particular for fire departments that run ambulance operations. If someone is participating in a stand-by at the same time a meeting is going on, can the person get the points for both? I don't see why not - if the person attends the meeting while fulfilling the required hours for a stand-by, I don't see an issue (same could be said about taking an online training course during a sleep-in or stand-by). If you have this scenario, it would be good to run that by the local attorney.
The next point system category is Elected or Appointed Positions. Here is the text of the statute:
(iv) Elected or appointed position (see definition)—twenty-five points maximum.
You will notice a parenthetical "see definition", which is:
12.“Elected or appointed position” means line officers, department or company officers and president, vice president, treasurer and secretary of a fire company or department.
The statute says "completion of a one year term." Given the language that comes after that initial sentence, it seems that the intention is that a firefighter must complete the full term in order to receive the points. That would appear to be the "most correct" answer, as I like to put it. However, we have seen many point systems that provide a certain number of points per month, one of which we know was audited by the State. The State did not comment on that part of the point system, but it also didn't "bless" that approach either.
The language after the initial sentence was added to the statute effective September 1, 1995. So some point systems adopted prior to that date may not have this language. The bill text that can be found on the State's website does not include a text memo to explain why this amendment was necessary. So I am not 100% certain why this is here. I was able to find in Village law language about officers being appointed in April, so perhaps then the term would start in May. I did not do an exhaustive search on this issue, so may need to re-visit it in the future. Regardless, I believe the point is that if a special exception had to be made to award the full year of points for an office that started in May, that the intention is that the full year must be served to be awarded the officer points.
So should a point system be designed to pro-rate officer points between two people? This is something that comes up often - someone must resign mid-year and another person takes up the position. Based on what was said above, it would seem the most correct answer based on the literal reading of the statute is that neither would receive the points. That just seems unreasonable. So if your past practice has been to pro-rate points between these two individuals, it is critical that your point system includes that written procedure. That seems like a reasonable approach.
Awarding points to a delegate is another tricky issue, since it isn't clear what a "firefighter's convention" is exactly. We spent a lot of time covering that in another post, which you can read here:
In the audit of the Luzerne-Hadley Fire District, the State auditor wrote in the report that "the District must specify each position the the total number of credits [sic] that members can earn for each position." So it seems reasonable that a point system can be adopted so that different offices receive different point values - but make sure those offices and point values are specified.
Recently the there have been two State audit reports that have commented on the definition of an elected or appointed position, and if certain positions meet that definition. Recently in the audit of the Jamesport Fire District, the audit report criticizes the District for granting 10 points to former chiefs. The report indicates that a former chief does not meet the definition of an elected or appointed position in the statute. In the audit of the Village of Southampton LOSAP, the Village was criticized for awarding points to committee members under this category. The report stated that in their view, committee membership does not meet the definition of an elected or appointed position as defined in the statute.
In view of these two audits, it is important to review your point system to ensure the officers match the definition in the statute. Since the definition is fairly broad - it says points can be awarded to department or company officers - it would be important to ensure the office is in the department or company by-laws as an actual office that is held.