Woodstock Fire District taxes will rise more than 11 percent under the proposed 2018 budget due mostly to a requirement to replenish an underfunded retirement program.
The Length of Service Awards Program, or LOSAP, entitles volunteers to $20 per month for each year of service, up to 25 years, once they turn 62. A recent rule change allowed volunteers to continue to earn credit for years served if they remained active past the age of 62, but the fire department was not aware of the program.
Volunteers of other fire departments in the state signed waivers to relinquish back payments, but, on the advice of the program administrator, Latham-based insurer Penflex, Woodstock decided to fully fund the program and avoid litigation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
To get credit for a year, volunteers must respond to fire calls, attend regular drills and training.
A LOSAP administrator worked with a district commissioner for a year to comb through records and figure out who is eligible for back payments under the new rules, said district Secretary and Treasurer Judy Peters. Ruling out those who are no longer active, they’ve identified 21 members who may be eligible.
The tax levy is estimated at $1,477,476, an increase of $149,604, or 11.27 percent over the current $1,327,872. Appropriations are $1,495,176.25, an increase of $141,104.25, or 10.42 percent over the current $1,354,072.
The contribution to LOSAP is proposed at $300,000, an increase of $140,000, or 87.5 percent over the current $160,000. The $140,000 is one of several catch-up payments to make up for a $437,000 shortfall, Peters said.
Despite the expense, Board of Commissioners Chairman Trevor Paton said it’s the right thing to do by the volunteers. “They are tremendously good, kind-hearted, hard-working people,” he said.
There are no other notable changes in the budget next year, though the department expects to replace a tanker in Zena. Peters pointed out bonding is not needed for new trucks as a reserve is maintained for such purchases. No new money is being added next year, but the reserve has $166,000. The department is also seeking grant funding for new turnout gear for every member that performers interior firefighting. The current gear is old and gets handed down from retiring to new members.
The fire district will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 17 at Woodstock Fire Co. No. 1, 242 Tinker Street.
Copies of the budget are available at the Town Clerk’s office, 45 Comeau Drive and online at woodstockfiredept.org/PublicFiles.php.
Petitions for Board of Commissioners
Those interested in running for the board must submit petitions by November 22 for the December 12 election. Contact the district office at 845-679-9922 for more information.