Dec 10, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Cazenovia Village Board of Trustees is moving toward holding a public referendum early next year in order to create a service award program for village firefighters which will, it is hoped, improve the fire department’s ability to recruit and retain new volunteers. While the program would be fully funded by the village — and village taxpayers — its cost of tens of thousands of dollars per year would be far less than the millions of dollars per year needed to fund a department staffed completely by professional firefighters, which could be necessitated by a lack of volunteers.
“It’s important for the public to understand the value we have with our fire department — it’s millions of dollars,” said Trustee and Village Fire Commissioner Dave Porter, at the board’s Dec. 2 regular monthly meeting.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years, and most communities are shocked by the cost of professional firefighters,” said Michael White, a representative of broker McNeil and Company, from Cortland, who gave a presentation to the board on creating a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) in Cazenovia.
The Cazenovia Volunteer Fire Department, which dates back to the 1790s, is an all-volunteer department with approximately 100 members. This past September, Fire Chief Nick Enders appeared before the village board to request that it consider the creation of a LOSAP in Cazenovia specifically to address the issues of recruitment and retention of volunteers.
At the board’s Dec. 2 meeting, more than 20 Cazenovia Fire Department members appeared in their full dress uniforms to show their support for the program.
The LOSAP, which was created by the New York state legislature in 1990, would allow firefighters with enough years of service to accrue a monetary amount – similar to a retirement or 401K benefit – at retirement at age 65, with a maximum allowance of 40 years’ worth. There is also a lump sum death benefit.
Firefighters qualify for the program by being at least 18 years-old and having completed one full year of firefighting service. Every year of service in the program would accrue $700 in a firefighter’s account. That contribution is gained only by earning 50 credit points per year, which is calculated by their participation through things such as attendance at meetings, training and calls, White said. Those who do not achieve 50 points per year do not receive the annual contribution. Accounts would be managed by McNeil and Company as mutual fund portfolios, White said.
There are currently about 58 members of the Cazenovia VFD that qualify for the LOSAP, White said. If all 58 seek to join the program and accrue the requisite number of points, then the first year payout by the village would be about $40,000, White said. The program also allows for payments going back through five years of service (only during the firefighter’s inaugural year), which, if every eligible member achieved payment, would cost the village another $35,000, he said.
So if the village board were to approve the LOSAP, it would cost the village approximately $75,000 the first year, and $40,000 every year thereafter, White said. Comparatively, the salary of a professional firefighter is about $85,000 per year with benefits, he said.
Because LOSAP participants must first qualify with their annual 50 points, if the program were approved by the village in 2014, the first payouts would not occur until 2015, he said.
From a practical budgetary standpoint, the village board would have two fiscal years before it had to work this program cost into its annual budget, said Mayor Kurt Wheeler.
In order for the program to be approved, the village board must hold a public hearing on the proposal and take a board vote. If the board votes for approval, the program must then be approved by village voters through a referendum, Wheeler said.
During the discussion on the LOSAP, local resident Pringle Symonds asked the board if Cazenovia College, which receives fire department services, contributes to the village for fire department costs. Wheeler said that question of how municipalities and colleges within their limits can share certain municipal costs “has been a topic of much discussion lately.” In the case of Cazenovia College, the answer is no, he said.
The board then voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the proposed LOSAP for 6:55 p.m. Monday, Jan. 6, prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting.
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Scheduled a special meeting of the board for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the board meeting room to continue the public hearing on the Village Edge South design guidelines and zone change requirements.
—Approved a new local law to amend the village code regarding use of village parks to extend authorized usage to non-residents. The current code states that only village residents may use village parks. The village board decided to change that in order to be more inclusive as it seeks to make Cazenovia a more tourist-friendly community.
—Agreed to look into updating the minimum income requirement for the village’s senior citizen tax adjustment. Currently, senior citizens who make less than $18,500 per year are eligible for a 50 percent reduction in their yearly assessment. That minimum income has not changed in decades, so the board will consider changing the minimum to a yearly income somewhere around $25,000.
—Agreed to take into consideration more ways to foster better relations between the village and Cazenovia College through a new “town and gown” committee or holding more community forums at which residents and representatives of the village and the college can have open dialogues.
—Heard from Trustee Fritz Koennecke, in his position as head of the parks and recreation committee, that the Burton Street ice skating rink is ready to be opened once the weather cooperates.
—Heard from Trustee and Police Commissioner Amy Mann that the speed monitoring equipment the village purchased as part of the Safe Routes to School program has begun arriving and residents should see speed monitoring equipment on the streets in the coming days and weeks.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.