April 20, 2010
City firefighters resolve funding dispute
New criteria defines who is considered active firefighter, settling distribution of state funds
Paid and volunteer firefighters in the city of Cortland have settled a long-running legal dispute over the share each group should receive of annual state funds given to the department.
Negotiators agreed last week on specific criteria for who counts as a firefighter to receive the money, commonly referred to as “2 percent money.”
Paid firefighters sued in December 2006, claiming they should receive a larger percentage of the money, which at the time was split between volunteer and paid firefighters on 75 to 25 percent basis.
The lawsuit contends the ratio should be amended, based upon the number of active volunteers and the number of current paid firefighters.
The 2 percent money totals approximately $37,000 annually.
In order to be considered active, volunteer firefighters must now meet training obligations, including an annual physical, attend calls for service and other meetings, said John Rice, a career city firefighter and code enforcement officer.
The requirements were outlined in legal documentation.
“Going through the litigation cleared up the roles in my opinion,” said Nathaniel Lambright, an attorney representing the city of Cortland firefighters union.
Both parties will meet to discuss how to distribute the 2 percent money on an annual basis, Lambright added.
Any further disputes over the matter can be settled with the Cortland Fire Commission rather than go back to court, he said.
“I think it was a good outcome for both parties,” Lambright said. “(They) no longer have to argue over what qualifies as a firefighter.”
The program that apportions the 2 percent money to the department has been in place since 1849 and requires all out-of-state fire insurance companies that provide insurance to New York state residents to pay a 2 percent tax on their premiums, according to the state Insurance Department.
Career firefighters in their lawsuit claimed some volunteers counted in apportioning the money were only social members, and that some of those counted are dead.
State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dowd, of Chenango County, ruled last year that training requirements had to be met in order to be considered an active firefighter and receive portions of the state funds.
Career firefighters claimed some of the volunteers considered active under the previous procedure rarely or never attend fires and other emergencies.
Any firefighter who abides by the criteria for an active firefighter will be entitled to a portion of the state funds, Rice said.
As a result of Dowd’s ruling, the volunteers owed the career firefighters nearly $20,000 in the annual 2 percent money funds, Lambright said.
All those financial obligations have been met, Rice said.
Lambright said the career firefighters agreed last week to drop an additional claim for about $11,000 of the state funds they believed were still owed. The claim was dropped “in the interest of harmony” to be maintained between career firefighters and volunteers, Lambright said.
Volunteer firefighters in the matter were represented by City Attorney Ron Walsh, who could not be reached for comment.
The 2 percent money has been used as a general fund to assist with purchasing equipment that can be used by the entire fire department.
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