For the third time in just over five years the East Marion Fire District has adopted a resolution seeking the public’s approval to extend the Length of Service Award Program program from 30 years to a maximum of 40 years. Firefighters who meet specific criteria earn $20 for each year of service and begin collecting at the entitlement age of 62. Members may continue to accrue time post entitlement provided they have not reached the maxed out on service time.
The fire district originally sought to extend the program in 2011, but pulled the resolution after numerous members voiced opposition to the extension. In 2013, with a substantial portion of the membership still in opposition, the fire district approved a ballot measure for the extension. The measure was subsequently defeated by resounding 2 to 1 margin.
The Length of Service Award Program was approved in 1992 with a three-year buy-back as a recruitment and retention incentive for volunteers, but the past decade has seen an erosion in the membership rolls on the for North Fork fire departments and East Marion is no exception. A small fraction of those who have left were anywhere close to the 30-year maximum pension accrual. In addition, any member who joins today will see the value of the pension benefit eroded by inflation. When they reach entitlement age, the $20 per year payout will have a fraction of the purchasing power that it has today.
With that in mind, why does the district continue to push for this extension after it has been defeated? Really the only individuals who stand benefit are those members near or over entitlement age who have maxed out on service time. It just so happens that exact demographic comprises a significant portion of district officials.
This week, each household in East Marion received a “press release” from the East Marion Fire District (which in itself is odd, press releases are traditionally released to the press and not sent out as a direct mailing) stating, “The board is further concerned that once the experienced firefighters reach the maximum benefit their participation in the activities of the fire department will reduce.” So it appears that after two unsuccessful attempts to extend this program, they have said to the community, “if you don’t pay us we might quit.” That is a dangerous precedent to set for a body charged with protecting the life and property of East Marion.
Ex-chief and life member