NY town considers increasing benefits for volunteers

Town leaders are considering having voters decide whether to increase the benefits to up to $1,200 per year


Kathleen Moore
The Post Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

QUEENSBURY, N.Y. — This fall, voters may be asked to decide whether firefighter and EMS volunteers should get more of a pension from the town in return for their services.

For decades, the volunteers who meet certain activity thresholds have earned $700 a year, which is invested by the town for their retirement. They can start withdrawing it at age 62.

Queensbury town officials are considering an increase in volunteer firefighter and EMS provider benefits to up to $1,200 per year. The final decision would come down to a referendum vote. (Photo/Queensbury Central Volunteer Fire Company)
Queensbury town officials are considering an increase in volunteer firefighter and EMS provider benefits to up to $1,200 per year. The final decision would come down to a referendum vote. (Photo/Queensbury Central Volunteer Fire Company)

The program started at $400, and was increased to $700 in 2006. Now, the town is allowed to invest as much as $1,200 per person. To do so requires a referendum.

It would cost the town about $100,000 a year to offer the increase.

But board member Jennifer Switzer argued that would be a bargain.

“If we had to pay firefighters, the town’s cost would be astronomical,” she said. “I think this is a no-brainer.”

The idea is that it would encourage volunteers so that the town does not have to pay staff. The ambulance companies have already had to start paying some workers.

But there are 144 active volunteer firefighters and 54 volunteer EMS workers who earn the pension deposit each year.

Keeping those numbers steady, if not growing, is crucial to the town’s bottom line.

“The problem is the volunteerism has been decreasing,” Supervisor John Strough said.

Volunteers have to respond to a certain percentage of emergency calls each year, as well as attending training and meetings, to be eligible for the funds.

The Town Board may hold a public hearing in August and place the question on the November ballot. But no decisions have been made yet. The board might propose a smaller increase or increase to the maximum in phases over the course of several years.

“This just initiates the conversation,” Strough said.

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©2020 The Post Star (Glens Falls, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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