Opinion 99 - 3


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.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 tax moneys to make nominal contribution to designated charitable organization as memorial in honor of deceased firefighter)

INSURANCE LAW, §§9104, 9105: A benevolent association that is authorized to use foreign fire insurance tax moneys for the care and relief of disabled or indigent volunteer and exempt firefighters and their families may expend such moneys to make a nominal contribution to a charitable organization designated by the family of a deceased volunteer firefighter, as a memorial in honor of the deceased firefighter, made for the purpose of lessening the grief of, or providing comfort to, the family of the firefighter.

You ask whether foreign fire insurance tax moneys may be expended by a volunteer firefighters' benevolent association to make a contribution to a charitable organization as a memorial to a deceased 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 firefighters' benevolent association has been created by 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., 1997 Opns St Comp No. 97-4, p 8; 1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-29, p 84; 1989 Opns St Comp No. 89-11, p 23; 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-120, p 151; 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-328, p 357).

The benevolent association in question was incorporated by chapter 620 of the Laws of 1970. Section 7 of that law authorizes the association to receive foreign fire insurance tax moneys and to use such moneys as follows:

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

Thus, the association may expend such moneys to make a contribution in memory of deceased volunteer firefighters only if the expenditures constitute the care and relief of disabled or indigent volunteer and exempt firefighters and their families.

In construing similar language in other special acts creating benevolent associations, 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 intent of such special acts (Opn No. 97-4, supra; 1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-59, p 161; 1984 Opns St Comp No. 84-36, p 44). We have also noted that these special acts do not define the phrase "care and relief", and that we are not aware of any judicial construction of that phrase (1992 Opns St Comp No. 92-7, p 16). In the absence of a statutory definition or judicial construction, we have suggested that the word "'relief' signifies the 'removal in whole or in part of any evil or hardship that afflicts body or mind; especially, the partial removal of pain, grief, want, care, anxiety, toil, or anything distressing or burdensome, so that some ease is obtained'" (id.,quoting from In re McCormick's Estate, 169 Misc 672, 675, 8 NYS2d 179, 183).

Based on this definition, we believe the word "relief" is broad enough to encompass a nominal contribution to a charitable organization designated by the family of a deceased volunteer firefighter, as a memorial in honor of the deceased firefighter, made for the purpose of lessening the grief of, or providing comfort to, the family of the firefighter.

May 26, 1999
Emil E. Krentz, Treasurer
Wright's Corners Fire Company Exempt Benevolent Association