Yesterday we looked at how to round properly to ensure the software is determining the correct number of calls a volunteer must respond to earn 25 points. Today, we'll focus on how to actually read the chart. As a reminder, here is the chart from the state law:
I added the horizontal lines for readability.
The statute first breaks out calls into two categories - emergency rescue and first aid squad calls (ambulance) and all others (presumably fire calls). How to determine this breakout is not for this blog post, but a future one. What we will focus on is how to determine the percentage based on the call volume.
At first glance, this seems like an easy chart to read. If the fire company responds between 0 and 500 calls in the year, the response requirement is 10%. But here comes question number one: In which range does the break-point (500, 1,000 and 1,500) fall?
To answer this question there are two parts of the statute to reference. First, §217 of the GML states "every fiduciary of a service award program will be required to act solely in the interest of the program’s participants and beneficiaries." Although this term usually is reserved for someone exercising control over the assets, the definition of fiduciary in §217 is "any person who exercises discretionary authority or control with respect to the administration of the program or the management or disposition of program assets or who renders investment advice for a fee to the program." With these two sections in view, it seems reasonable that the tie-goes-to-the-runner approach should be taken here - meaning, when an interpretation needs to be made on an ambiguous provision, the decision should be made in the favor of the participant. That would lead to putting 500, 1,000 and 1,500 in the lower-percentage ranges. But secondly, since the fourth range is constructed as "1,500 and up", is seems clear that 1,500 is included in that range. Therefore working backwards, it seems that 1,500 should be excluded from the 3rd range and 1,000 included, 1,000 excluded from the 2nd range and 500 included, and finally that 500 should be excluded from the 1st range. That means the chart should actually be read, 0 to 499 calls = 10%, 500 to 999 calls = 7.5%, 1,000 to 1,499 calls = 5.0%, and 1,500+ = 2.5%.
The second question that often arises is, How do you read this chart?
Well, the Office of the State Comptroller has been pretty clear in their audit reports that they read the chart "literally" (that is the term I would use). Meaning, if the call volume is less than 500 during the year, then a volunteer must respond to 10% of the calls to earn 25 points. However, once the call volume reaches 500, the percentage decreases to 7.5% provided the call volume does not reach 1,000. But this results in some seemingly odd results: a firefighter in a department with 450 calls would have to respond to 45 calls to earn 25 points, but a firefighter in a department with 550 calls would have to respond to 42 calls to earn 25 points. This means that even though there are 100 more calls, the volunteer has to respond to fewer. That doesn't seem to make sense. Worse yet, if there were 1,600 calls, the required number of responses is only 40!
But keep in mind - if the municipal board would like to avoid criticism from the OSC in an audit, it is best to read the statute literally as just described, since that is clearly how the OSC has been interpreting the statute in audits they have performed.
An alternative way to read the statute is that it is describing a progressive formula, sort of like a reverse tax code. The formula is 10% of the first 499 calls, 7.5% of the next 500 calls, 5.0% of the next 500 calls, and 2.5% of calls 1,500 and up. With this formula, a volunteer in a department that responds to 550 calls would have to respond to 54 calls to earn 25 points. A volunteer in a department responding to 1,600 calls would be required to attend 115 calls to earn 25 points. The obvious problem there is that 115 calls is a lot for a year - just about one every three days. That is a significant load for a volunteer.
So there may not be a 100% perfect answer, but based on the audit results from the State it appears the literal approach should be taken.
Just for your reference, here is a chart with the required # of calls calculated based on 100-call increments:
Important note: Firefly Admin Inc. is not a legal firm and cannot provide legal advice, and this blog post is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Please contact your local attorney for assistance in determining how your municipality should structure the point system.