As a result of the Governor extending the State Disaster Emergency to October 4, 2020, it has highlighted some confusion about the new legislation that allows sponsors to credit up to five (5) points per month during this Emergency. We thought it could be helpful to analyze the statute a different way, with the hopes that it might create some clarity for those sponsors struggling to determine the best course of action.
Before proceeding, we must clearly state that we are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice. This blog post is simply our best educated guess on how the statute should be administered. All board members are strongly encouraged to share this post and any other guidance you have found with your attorney before taking any action.
The following is the literal, word-for-word text of the new Section 217(p) of the New York State General Municipal Law broken out into its relevant parts. Each part is indicated by a number in parenthesis so we can refer to it later. We think this is helpful when trying to digest what it is saying, rather than looking at a big, single paragraph:
Here are our comments on each component section:
(1) The takeaway here seems to be the use of the term “a calendar year”. This implies that if the State Disaster Emergency is extended into 2021, it could allow sponsors to credit points in 2021 as well.
(2) This places the context of this new section of statute within the State Disaster Emergency declared by Executive Order 202. Therefore, there is a limitation placed on the period in which points could potentially be awarded – from March 7, 2020 until the end of the Emergency, which is currently October 4, 2020.
(3) This seems pretty clear – up to 5 points per month can be awarded, with proration for periods of less than a month. Since the statute stipulates up to 5 points, we don’t see why a sponsor could not elect to award a fractional number of points per month, such as 1.5 points per month. It simply cannot exceed 5.
(4) This is a key component of the paragraph that has created a lot of debate.
The term “active volunteer firefighter” is a defined term in the statute, and means “a person who has been approved by the authorities in control of a duly organized volunteer fire company or volunteer fire department as an active volunteer firefighter of such fire company or department and who is faithfully and actually performing service in the protection of life and property from fire or other emergency, accident or calamity in connection with which the services of such fire company or fire department are required”.
Additionally, the statute says to each active volunteer firefighter.
Therefore, it would appear every individual that meets the “active volunteer firefighter” definition should be given the points. We think there is wiggle room to determine that locally, but everyone who fits into that category would be eligible for the points.
(4.1) This part of the statute was written such that a fire department would have adopted special rules that kept certain active volunteer firefighters from responding to alarms. This doesn’t stipulate that such special rules have been adopted in writing, but certainly from an audit-trail standpoint it would be preferred for those rules to have been in writing.
(4.2) This section seems clear – that activities were cancelled or not held, which prevented active volunteer firefighters from attending and, therefore, earning points for participating.
(5) We believe this is one of the overlooked components of this statute, and one that provides the clarity some may be seeking. This 5th section is a qualifier of the 4th – that the special response rules or cancelling of activities must have been done due to the guidelines related to the State Disaster Emergency. This could be important and nuanced, since the guidelines have changed frequently. It also means that just because the State Disaster Emergency was extended to October 4, 2020, it does not mean that an extra month (roughly) of points should automatically be given. The number of points awarded should tie in some way to restrictions in fire department activities, which were in turn tied to guidelines related to the Emergency.
(6) This section appears clear – it must be adopted by resolution of the political subdivision, with such resolution adopted by April 30, 2021.
(7) Again, this seems fairly clear – the resolution must state the number of additional points to be credited per month.
(8) This clarifies that the points awarded due to the Emergency are in addition to any other points earned. This means that the “COVID points” should be a sperate category and not shoe-horned into an existing category.
This pandemic not only changed the way fire departments had to operate during the height of the pandemic, during a period of time, but may permanently change policies and procedures. The environment in which the statute was written seems to be one in which the Emergency and, therefore, how the fire department operates, was temporary. Therefore, the legislature allowed sponsors to address this short-term problem with a temporary solution.
However, there may be a point in which the temporary measures become permanent – either out of habit or a purposeful determination that those measures are in the best long-term interest of the fire department and its membership. We immediately think of in-person meetings versus video-conference meetings, or virtual training versus in-person training. Where that crossover line is must be determined locally by the sponsor before the resolution is adopted.
It is important to keep the proper perspective on the duration of the State Disaster Emergency. The possible continuation of the Emergency past October 4, 2020 should not mean the automatic additional granting of points to the new expiration date. Instead, a sponsor should be focusing on the lost opportunities for active volunteer firefighters to earn points.
The last alternative approach that might be helpful is to not focus on the specific number of points per month, but instead to focus on the total number of points the sponsor would like to award in 2020. All the sponsor must ensure is that the per-month amount does not exceed five (5) for the specific period. For example, if the sponsor determines than an additional 15 points should be awarded in 2020, then the period for which those points are being granted should be at least three (3) months. Changing that mindset could be helpful for some.
Finally, although this isn't required by the statute, we think it is a good idea for the sponsoring municipality to require the fire department to submit in writing a summary of how operations at the fire department were changed, including the events and activities that were cancelled. The fire department should also make a request regarding the number of points to be awarded. With this in hand, the municipality then has some context and detail on which to base a decision and adopt the resolution. Without that context, it is difficult for the municipality to make an educated, informed decision.
As always, please contact us with any questions, and check with your attorney!
On Friday afternoon (September 4, 2020), Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.60, which "continued" the declared State Disaster Emergency until October 4, 2020. The original order that declared the Emergency was 202, and there have now been 61 "continuations" of that original order. (There was an order 202.55.1 if you are wondering if we can count properly.)
This is important to fire departments that may still be operating under restrictions due to the State Disaster Emergency, such as cancelling events or limiting at-risk volunteers from responding to calls. If this is still occurring locally, then firefighters would continue to lose opportunities to earn points that would have been earned for attending these cancelled activities. This was addressed in the recent amendment to the general municipal law allowing municipal sponsors to award up to five (5) points per month for each month that restrictions were in place. Since the awarding of these additional points is tied to restrictions imposed as a result of the Emergency, the extension of the Emergency also extends the period in which points can be awarded for cancelled events.
Even if the fire department is back to a typical activity level, there may be activities that were scheduled to be held after September 7, 2020 (the original expiration date of the Emergency), or even after October 4, 2020, that were canceled due to the planning involved in the activity. These events should be considered when the sponsor is determining the appropriate number of points to award.
Ultimately, the total number of points that are awarded by the municipal sponsor should be reflective of the events that were actually cancelled, and the missed opportunities to earn points for attending those events (or the chance to earn 25 points by responding to calls). Therefore, the extension of the Emergency should not automatically mean more points for the volunteers. We continue to suggest that the resolution adopted by the municipality include specific dates that tie to a specific number of points, thereby keeping some control over the total number of points being awarded. If an amending resolution is needed in the future, that could be done. We also continue to suggest that a municipality wait as long as possible to adopt the resolution, as the future of the State Disaster Emergency is cloudy at best.
Finally, no action should be taken by a fire department or municipality without getting advice from your local attorney. The volume and relative complexity of the number of Executive Orders requires insight from someone skilled and versed in these matters. Involving your LOSAP administrator in the discussion would be beneficial, but as with all legal matters this should be reviewed with your attorney before any action is taken.
Firefly Admin Inc. is guided by six core principles – Serve, Trust, Value, Teach, Grow, and Collaborate. These principles can be applied in many ways, including both in how we deliver our services to clients and how we operate internally as a team.
Recently, we have made several internal decisions on enhancing our service offerings, all done in line with these principles. However, the purpose of this communication is to highlight one we are very excited to announce, which is the addition of Craig Relyea, ASA to our team.
Craig joins Firefly as an Actuary; he is an Associate of the Society of Actuaries and a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries. Most recently, Craig has been working for a health insurance company, assisting them manage their large volume of data, analyzing and helping develop trends and pricing for their products. For the 10 years prior, Craig worked with service award programs and developed a specific expertise in this field – one that we are extremely fortunate to now have working for Firefly’s clients.
In recent months, Craig assisted us with a couple actuarial projects on a consulting basis. Now that he has been hired as an employee, he will be involved in all facets of our services, including administration, consulting, and client meetings. His unique experience will allow him to make an immediate and significant impact. While adding Craig’s talents will enhance the service we can provide, his addition is equally important to strengthening the continuity of our services over time. This illustrates our commitment to ensure our services can be trusted and valued in the future.
On actuarial matters, Craig will work closely with our consulting actuary, Tony Fiorillo. Tony Fiorillo is also an Associate of the Society of Actuaries, and he certified all valuations we prepared in 2020. We entered into a consulting agreement with Tony in January 2020. This also means we will not be relying as much on our collaboration with Jefferson Solutions, Inc. We continue to work with Jefferson on specific projects and recommend any municipality in need for GASB 75 valuations to contact them through their website, www.jefsi.com.
As a result of the addition of Craig and Tony, our team now consists of five professionals all with at least ten years of experience with service award programs. Although 2020 was not typical by any measurement, we successfully delivered on our promises, making at least one part of our clients’ year routine. All annual reports and participant benefit statements were delivered timely, both in paper form and electronically. We were also able to provide our clients a draft of the resolution to award points for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic at no additional fee.
If you’d like to contact Craig, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although Tony Fiorillo is a project-based consultant, if you have questions about an actuarial valuation or would like to touch base with him, you can email Tony at email@example.com.
For those municipalities that have chosen to partner with Firefly, we are thankful for the trust you have placed in us, and we will continue to work to validate that trust.