Opinion 96 - 13


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

AMBULANCE SERVICE -- Service Award Programs (simultaneous participation in retirement system)

VOLUNTEERS -- Ambulance Workers (simultaneous participation in service award program and retirement system)

CIVIL SERVICE LAW, §150; GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, art. 11-AA; RETIREMENT AND SOCIAL SECURITY LAW, §§40, 100, 101: A person may simultaneously participate in, and receive benefits from, a service award program for volunteer ambulance workers and the State Employees' Retirement System.

You ask whether a person may simultaneously participate in, and receive benefits from, a service award program for volunteer ambulance workers and the State Employees' Retirement System.

Article 11-AA of the General Municipal Law (§219-b et seq.) authorizes the adoption of service award programs for volunteer ambulance workers. Section 219-e(a) of that law establishes criteria for participation in a service award program, but does not prohibit participation by a member of the State Employees' Retirement System. Similarly, subdivisions (c)-(e) of section 219-f provide for payment of service awards, but do not bar payment or provide for a reduction of payment in the event that a participant is a member of, or receiving a retirement allowance from, the State Employees' Retirement System. Indeed, section 219-d(3)(b) provides that "[p]ayments under the service award program if adopted, shall not impair any rights of volunteer ambulance workers under the volunteer ambulance workers' benefit law or any other law" (emphasis supplied).  We also note that section 219-e(f) provides that in computing service credit under a service award program for those volunteer ambulance workers who serve as paid employees within a political subdivision, credit may not be given for activities performed during the individual's regularly assigned work periods. The effect of this provision is to limit the circumstances under which service credit may be earned by participants in a service award program who are also paid employees of a political subdivision (cf. Opns St Comp No. 93-16, p 27, discussing a similar provision applicable to service award programs for volunteer firefighters). Since paid employees of a political subdivision may also be members of the State Employees' Retirement System (see Retirement and Social Security Law, §40), it seems clear that this provision contemplates simultaneous participation in, and, hence, receipt of benefits from, both a service award program and the Retirement System.

Further, the State Employees' Retirement System is governed generally by article 2 of the Retirement and Social Security Law (§2 et seq.). Section 40 of that law provides for membership in the Retirement System, but does not prohibit membership by a person who is a participant in a service award program. Similarly, section 100 provides for the payment of retirement allowances, but does not prohibit payment to a person who participates in a service award program. Although section 101 generally requires reduction or suspension of a retirement allowance if a retired member returns to active public service and is thereby eligible for membership in the Retirement System (see also Retirement and Social Security Law, §§211, 212, 480), service as a volunteer ambulance worker does not render a person "eligible for membership in the Retirement System" (see Retirement and Social Security Law, §40).

Finally, we note that section 150 of the Civil Service Law provides, with certain exceptions, for the suspension of public retirement pensions and annuities following retirement from the civil service upon accepting any office, position or employment in the civil service to which any salary or emolument is attached. We have been informed by the State Department of Civil Service, however, that the position of volunteer ambulance worker is not in the "civil service" (see Civil Service Law, art. III).

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, it is our opinion that a person may simultaneously participate in, and receive benefits from, a service award program for volunteer ambulance workers and the State Employees' Retirement System.

June 21, 1996
Vincent J. Messina, Jr., Esq., Town Attorney
Town of Islip