There is an important vote coming up soon in the North Greece Fire District. Per the legal notice posted in the Post newspaper dated 10-August-2017, the NGFD is asking registered voters to vote YES to abolish the Length of Service Awards Program, known as LOSAP.
[For in-depth details NYS regulatory guidelines for LOSAP, click https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/firedist/losapregsummary.pdf.]
When a Fire District offers LOSAP, it is intended to help recruit and retain volunteers. At North Greece, we are allowed to deposit a defined contribution (for example $700.00 of taxpayer dollars) into the LOSAP account for each volunteer who reaches a minimum points requirement. Points are earned through various activities required to be an active volunteer fire fighter. Examples include attending training drills and responding to emergency calls. Each year the volunteer remains active, the $700.00 deposit is made into their accrual account. Similar to many investment accounts, the LOSAP accruals cannot be withdrawn until the recipient reaches entitlement age, typically after age 55.
At the NGFD, we find that this program is not working to recruit and adequately retain volunteers. Based on learning that we are the highest ranking District in losing volunteers in our County, we find that LOSAP is one of the reasons for our declining retention. This means that newer recruits working toward the ever-increasing requirements set by New York State law to become and maintain active fire fighter status are not finding value in waiting decades to receive a cash payout from LOSAP. Newer and especially younger recruits are not citing LOSAP as a recruitment incentive when they join, based on our interviews. In addition, the program is extremely difficult to administer, and the regulatory guidelines are complex. (See the Comptroller’s report link below.) The administrative time and cost of this program is thus a significant percentage of the overall annual cost, versus the volunteers receiving greater benefits.
The expense to fund the program is NOT the incentive for abolishing it. Rather, the desire to reinvest that investment to meet the needs of today’s hard-working volunteers is why we seek to end the program. We are severely restricted by NYS law in what we can do to recognize the efforts of our volunteers. Gifts or cash rewards of any kind are considered payment/income and those restrictions are strictly enforced. We do believe we can create a collaborative and legal program between the District and Department, given the time, cooperation of our internal teams, and by using the funds we would normally have allocated to LOSAP contributions. This program would continue to develop over time, requiring legal input along the way.
Trust is certainly needed at this time. Trust given by our existing volunteers to believe that the District is not trying to take away, but to replace this program that merely serves a few, with a program that serves all. We do NOT want to merely remove a benefit to valued volunteers without replacing it with something better.
A steering committee has already been formed and has begun to meet. This project is among the top priorities for development.
In the meantime, we ask for trust and faith that we will successfully replace LOSAP beginning in 2018. Just as a public vote was required to create this taxpayer-funded program, thus a public vote is required to abolish it. With a vote of “Yes” to abolish the program, distributions of nearly $175,000.00 would commence in two payments in 2018 and 2019. Individual recipients are due to receive anywhere from $700.00 to over $28,000.00 each. By breaking the distribution into two payments, we do incur administrative fees and labor for an additional year, but this then allows us to reduce the tax burden to recipients.
Please support this vote on Sept 12, 2017. From 6-9 pm, vote YES at NGFD Headquarters, 1766 Latta Rd. You must be a registered voter in the North Greece Fire District to be eligible to vote in this special election.
For additional information, see the attached Legal Notice, the NYS law link above, or read through the Comptroller’s recent LOSAP report. The Introduction on page 4 helps provide additional background information on how this program was intended to work. Find that report here: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/2015/LOSAP/global.pdf
Thank you for your support.
Linda Andreano, Vice Chair and Fire Commissioner
Submitted on behalf of the Board of Fire Commissioners
North Greece Fire District
August 12, 2017