Opinion 97 - 4


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

FOREIGN FIRE INSURANCE TAXES -- Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Benevolent Association (use of moneys to pay death benefit upon death of firefighter's spouse)

INSURANCE LAW, §§9104, 9105: The Volunteer and Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of the City of Glen Cove may not expend foreign fire insurance tax moneys to provide a benefit to a member of the Association solely by reason of the death of his or her spouse.

You ask whether the Volunteer and Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of the City of Glen Cove may expend foreign fire insurance tax moneys to provide a death benefit to a member of the Association upon the death of his or her spouse. For purposes of this opinion, we assume that the spouse is not a volunteer or exempt volunteer firefighter.

Insurance Law, §§9104 and 9105 govern the distribution and use of foreign fire insurance tax moneys, except as otherwise provided in any special law. Therefore, when an exempt firemen's benevolent association is governed by a special act of the State Legislature and is authorized to receive direct payment of foreign fire insurance tax moneys, the moneys may be expended only in the manner prescribed by the special act (see, e.g., 1995 Opns St Comp No. 95-26, p 53).

The Volunteer and Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of the City of Glen Cove is governed by chapter 796 of the Laws of 1980. Insofar as it relates to the expenditure of foreign fire insurance tax moneys, chapter 796 provides:

Such taxes shall only be used for the care and relief of disabled or indigent volunteer and exempt volunteer firemen and their families.

In construing similar language, we have concluded that a benevolent association may use foreign fire insurance tax moneys to fund a death benefit payable to the family of a deceased firefighter because death is a "disability" within the intendment of such special acts (1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-59, p 161; 1984 Opns St Comp No. 84-36, p 44). We have also concluded, however, that a benevolent association may not use foreign fire insurance tax moneys to pay benefits solely by reason of the disability or death of a family member of a firefighter (1984 Opns St Comp No. 84-36, supra). Of course, if the disability or death of a family member renders a firefighter "indigent" within the meaning and intent of the special act, the benevolent association may use foreign fire insurance tax moneys to provide for the care and relief of the firefighter and his or her family.

Accordingly, in our opinion, the Volunteer and Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of the City of Glen Cove may not expend foreign fire insurance tax moneys to provide a benefit to a member of the Association solely by reason of the death of his or her spouse.

February 14, 1997
Thomas Trousdell, President
Volunteer & Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Assoc.