Several fire districts are not accurately calculating credits for Length of Service Awards Programs (LOSAP) and as a result local volunteers may be shortchanged on benefits, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
LOSAP is a pension-like benefit program established by municipalities and fire districts to recruit and retain active fire service volunteers. Approximately 600 fire districts and municipalities across the state have established LOSAP for their volunteers.
“The men and women who volunteer their time to protect our communities should get the benefits they were promised,” said DiNapoli. “Failing to correctly record service credits is unfair to the volunteers and could discourage potential volunteers from signing up. This program has a troubled past, and it is important that local officials know the rules and keep a tight handle on reporting.”
The audit examined ten fire districts and departments from across the state: Belgium Cold Springs Fire District (Onondaga County), East Greenbush Fire District No. 3 (Rensselaer), Holtsville Fire District (Suffolk), Lake Ronkonkoma Fire District (Suffolk), Maynard Fire District (Oneida), Mechanicstown Fire District (Orange), Mechanicville Fire Department (Saratoga), Penn Yan Fire Department (Yates), Walden Fire District (Orange) and West Seneca Fire District No. 5 (Erie).
LOSAP point systems are developed locally and specify how volunteers earn service credit. State law outlines what activities can be included in the point system. In most instances, the law also specifies the number of points that can be granted each time an activity is performed and the maximum number of points that can be earned for performing each activity over the course of a year. Activities for which points can be granted include: emergency responses, attending training courses, teaching fire prevention classes and participating in a variety of drills and other events.
DiNapoli’s auditors found several of the districts and municipalities adopted point systems that were not in compliance with state law, did not correctly award service credits and failed to provide proper oversight of the program.
- Lake Ronkonkoma had seven volunteers who received inaccurate service credit because officials failed to compare volunteers’ earned points to the list of those approved for LOSAP credit;
- Holtsville had eight firefighters earn enough points to be awarded service credits, but officials were unaware that new volunteers were eligible for LOSAP in their first year of service;
- Mechanicville and Penn Yan did not properly award LOSAP service credits because officials did not detect issues with computer software errors;
- Mechanicstown awarded more points than allowed for participating in parades and drills; and
- Maynard awarded points for drills that did not meet minimum standards as prescribed by law.
As a result of the audit, DiNapoli recommended fire district and municipal officials review their LOSAP point systems and ensure they are consistent with state requirements. In addition, local districts and municipalities should improve their oversight of LOSAP by periodically comparing documentation of volunteers’ activities with the records and reports of those activities to ensure activities are appropriately accounted for.
A full list of recommendations and the response from district officials is included in the final audit report. For a copy, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/2015/LOSAP/global.htm