Opinion 2000 - 19


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.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 monies to install an elevator accessible to disabled members of association)

INSURANCE LAW 9104, 9105: A benevolent association may use foreign fire insurance tax monies to facilitate access to its meeting room and offices by disabled members of the association through the installation of a handicapped accessible elevator. In order to ensure that foreign fire insurance tax monies are used exclusively for the purposes set forth in the special act governing the association, however, if it is anticipated that the elevator will be used to significant degree by other than disabled association members, only that portion of the cost attributable to making the elevator handicapped accessible may be paid for with foreign fire insurance tax monies.

You ask whether a volunteer firefighters' benevolent association may expend foreign fire insurance tax monies to pay for installation of an elevator in a building owned by the association. The elevator would provide transportation to the association meeting room and office area, and would be made accessible to disabled members of the association.

Insurance Law 9104 and 9105 govern the distribution and use of foreign fire insurance tax monies, 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 monies, the monies may be expended only in the manner prescribed by the special act (see 1999 Opns St Comp No. 99-3, p 5; 1997 Opns St Comp No. 97-4, p 8; 1995 Opns St Comp No. 95-26, p 53; 1992 Opns St Comp No. 92-7, p 15; 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 is governed by the Laws of 1940, chapter 73, 4 (Nassau County Civil Divisions Act 612.0 et seq.). Insofar as it relates to the expenditure of foreign fire insurance tax moneys, chapter 73 provides as follows:

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

In construing this language, we have previously expressed the opinion that the benevolent association may not expend foreign fire insurance tax monies to make improvements to a fire department headquarters when it was apparent that the improvements did not relate to the care and relief of indigent or disabled firefighters and their families (Opn No. 95-26, supra). We have also, however, construed this language, as well as similar language in another special act, as authorizing a benevolent association to acquire space in buildings needed for the conduct of meetings and the storage of records relating to the association's administration of foreign fire insurance tax monies (id.; Opn No. 89-11, supra). Moreover, we have suggested that in the absence of a statutory definition or judicial construction, the word "relief" as used in these types of special acts 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 and burdensome, so that some ease is obtained" (Opn No. 92-7, supra, quoting from In re McCormick's Estate, 169 Misc 672, 675, 8 NYS2d 179, 183).

Based on the above, it is our opinion that a benevolent association may use foreign fire insurance tax monies to facilitate access to its meeting room and offices by disabled members of the association through the installation of a handicapped accessible elevator. In order to ensure that foreign fire insurance tax monies are used exclusively for the purposes set forth in the special act governing the association, however, we also believe that, if it is anticipated that the elevator will be used to significant degree by other than disabled association members, only that portion of the cost attributable to making the elevator handicapped accessible may be paid for with foreign fire insurance tax monies.

November 29, 2000
Brian Flaks, Secretary
Lawrence-Cedarhurst Volunteer and Exempt
Firemen's Benevolent Association, Inc.