As recruitment efforts continue to decline, municipalities across the country are struggling with ways to keep a viable number of volunteer firefighters and ambulance squad members ready for emergency situations.
Some towns are considering putting paid emergency response teams into place, but that can be an expensive proposition. The National Volunteer Fire Council estimates it would cost $37.2 billion annually if all volunteer firefighters were replaced with career staff in the United States.
In 1998 and 2001, Malta residents approved the establishment of the Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker Service Award Programs, recognizing the need to recruit and retain active volunteers who give their time to aid and protect town residents.
On Tuesday, Dec. 11, Malta residents will head to the polls to cast their votes on changing the volunteer service award program for town firefighters and ambulance workers to add modest increases to the program.
The program operates like a simple defined benefits pension plan.
For each year of active volunteer service credit earned, a $10 monthly service award is currently paid to the volunteer beginning at age 65 for the volunteer’s lifetime. A volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker earns a year of credit by accumulating a minimum number of points (50) for responding to calls, attending drills, completing training courses, attending company meetings, completing a one-year term as an officer and for other duties.
The proposed amendment would increase the monthly service award payment from $10 to $20. Based upon an average assessed taxable property value of $200,000 in the town of Malta, taxpayers will pay approximately $14 a year more for the proposed changes.
Town board members have spread the word about the vote through roadway signs, newsletters and fliers.
Some people have complained about this, and said we should get more money to help compensate these volunteers from somewhere else, but there is nowhere else, said council member Donna Gizzi. `It’s basically the equivalent of the cost of a 12-cut pizza if every resident supported this.`
Gizzi’s husband, Bob, has been a volunteer firefighter for years.
`People don’t realize what it’s like, the commitment they make for the town,` said Donna Gizzi. `If you have a big Memorial Day family picnic planned, and there’s a call, they drop everything to go. I remember one Christmas Eve we were putting toys together for our kids, and a call came in on a house fire, and Bob was out all night.`
The current annual combined town and village cost of funding the town of Malta and village of Round Lake volunteer firefighter defined benefit service award programs is about $61,400, including the cost of administration. If voters approve the amendment to both programs, the combined annual cost of the amended program will be about $115,400, an increase in the tax rate of about 5 cents per $1,000.
The current annual cost of funding the Malta Ambulance Corps, Inc. Volunteer Ambulance Worker Defined Benefit Service Award Program is about $14,000 including the cost of administration. If voters approve this amendment, the annual cost of the amended program will be about $33,300, or an increase in the tax rate of about 2 cents per $1,000.
`This would really mean a lot to the volunteers who serve the town,` said Paul Parker, Jr., a longtime Round Lake fire department member. `It would also be a vote of confidence and support for the departments.`
Town residents will vote at Malta town hall, and village of Round Lake residents vote at the village hall on Dec. 11 from noon to 8 p.m.“