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This publication is intended as an information source for clients, prospective clients, and colleagues. The content should not be considered legal advice and readers should not act upon information in this publication without individualized professional counsel.

Fire District Alert: Requirements for Sale or Disposition of Surplus Apparatus Amended

fire service laws

I am often asked about the requirements for disposing of surplus apparatus or other property.  Generally, unless apparatus was being traded in as part payment for new apparatus, fire district commissioners had to pass a resolution subject a mandatory referendum before disposing of surplus property.  However, there are two exceptions to the mandatory referendum requirement:  (1) If the property was valued at less than $50,000, then the board of fire commissioners only needed to pass a resolution subject to a permissive referendum; and (2) If the property was valued at less than $10,000, then the commissioners need only a resolution to dispose of the surplus property.

Effective immediately, those thresholds have been boosted to $100,000 and $20,000, respectively.  For more information about this recent amendment, please see my article on our law firm’s website: New Law Removes Red Tape for Fire Districts Selling Surplus Apparatus.

This publication is intended as an information source for clients, prospective clients, and colleagues and constitutes attorney advertising. The content should not be considered legal advice and readers should not act upon information in this publication without individualized professional counsel.

LOSAP Penalty for NY Public Employees Removed

Many fire districts have established Length of Service Award Programs (“LOSAPs”) in an effort to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.  The service awards provided under these LOSAPs relate to credits earned annually by performing various volunteer firefighting functions for a period of years, and are generally paid on a monthly basis upon the participating volunteer reaching a certain age.

Previously, public employees who serve as volunteer firefighters were unfairly penalized, in that they were not permitted to earn any credit for responding to calls during the individual’s regularly assigned work periods.  Effective immediately, this penalty no longer applies.

The Memorandum of Support accompanying Chapter 535 of the Laws of 2015 notes the absurdity of the prior restriction:

Section 217(f) of the [General Municipal Law] precludes a volunteer firefighter who provides firefighter services (generally, emergency services) during his or her “regularly assigned work periods” from receiving LOSAP credit for those services. So, in spite of the increasingly desperate need to attract folks willing to undergo hundreds of hours of required training and stay active for many, many years to earn any marginally-significant LOSAP benefits, public employees are “dis-incented” from providing volunteer firefighter services for circumstances over which they have no control and which may already cause them significant employment-related penalties.

Thankfully, on December 11, 2015, the Governor signed legislation to repeal this penalty, effective immediately.

Seat Belt Use Required For Volunteer Firefighters

Volunteer Fire Fighters Now Must Buckle-Up!

Volunteer Firefighters Now Must Buckle-Up!

When New York’s Seat Belt Law was originally enacted in 1984, the Legislature exempted “authorized emergency vehicles” from the definition of “motor vehicles” whose operators and passengers had to be restrained by safety belts, because it was believed that the operators of these vehicles needed to be able to perform their duties in an “unhampered fashion.” However, that is about to change for volunteer firefighters.

On November 20, 2015, the Governor signed an amendment to the Seat Belt Law (Chapter 448 of the Laws of 2015), which now includes vehicles owned or operated by volunteer fire departments within the definition of “motor vehicles” whose operators and passengers must be restrained.  The amendment also applies to ambulances owned or operated by voluntary ambulance services as well.  However, the safety restraint requirements still do not apply: (a) to a passenger in the rear seat of a fire vehicle or ambulance if the seat is not required to be equipped with safety belts, nor (b) to emergency medical personnel during the course of providing patient care in the rear compartment of an ambulance in accordance with applicable patient care standards, guidelines and protocols established pursuant to the Public Health Law.

In support of this legislation, the sponsor’s memorandum noted:

The single largest cause of Volunteer Firefighter and EMS responder death is vehicle accidents to and from an incident scene. The largest contributor to those deaths is failure to wear seat belts.  Volunteers would like the current exemption removed from the law making New York law consistent with the training and operational procedures currently in place to promote seat belt use.

Use of seat belts promotes safety and saves lives. Since buckling a seat belt takes just a few seconds, fire and ambulance vehicles should be required to use them. This bill is strongly supported by the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York.

This amendment will not take effect until November 1, 2016.

 


Fire District Materials: 2015 Batavia Conference

fire service lawsOn Saturday, September 26, 2015, I was honored to be invited to participate as one of the panelists at the 2015 Western New York Fire District Officers Legislative Association Workshop.  I understand that the event was a “sell-out” with fire district officials from over 11 counties in attendance.  There were many topics covered, and I wanted to follow-up with a short post including some additional information and links to relevant information from some of the topics that were covered.

Fundraising.  During one of the breaks, I was asked about firefighters participating in fundraising activities in support of other (non-fire) organizations.  A word of caution about this.  Although the statute governing fundraising, General Municipal Law section 204-a, generally provides that firefighters participating in fundraising activities are covered by the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law (“VFBL”), not all kinds of fundraising activities are included in this coverage.  Section 204-a defines “fund raising activity” as “a method of raising funds to effectuate the lawful purposes of a fire company.”  Thus, if the funds are not being raised for “the lawful purposes of a fire company” it is not likely that there would be coverage under the VFBL if a firefighter is injured while participating in such activity.

One of the fundraising activities briefly discussed involved raffles.  The New York State Gaming Commission website has a section dedicated to Charitable Gaming–including Raffles.  You can find it here.  It is critical that both the requirements of the General Municipal Law and the applicable gaming rules are followed.

Firefighters Under 18.  There are opinions from the Attorney General’s Office indicating that firefighters may be as young as 16 years old.  But, before deciding whether or not to permit firefighters that young, the fire district should consult with counsel about the unique rules applicable to such firefighters, and also to review the risks associated with having firefighters that young on active duty.  Fire districts are also authorized by section 204-b of the General Municipal Law to establish youth programs, provided the program complies with the requirements of the statute.  Participants in such a youth program are not active firefighters.  Unlike active firefighters, youth participants are not eligible for VFBL coverage, and they may not participate in any emergency operation or any hazardous activity.

Blue Lights.  The SafeNY website contains a good FAQ page [here] with a good summary of the requirements applicable to the different types of sirens and flashing lights–including the blue lights used by volunteer firefighters.  The website also contains links to the relevant statutes, including Section 375(41)(4), which governs the use and operation of the blue lights.

Bonding Credit Card Users.  Recent audits by the New York Comptroller have included a recommendation that fire districts and other municipalities bond individuals who are issued credit cards.  Here is a copy of a recent audit with this recommendation.

Document Retention Policies.  I have been asked by my fire district clients how long it should retain certain documents.  Fortunately, the New York State Archives published a document retention and disposition schedule applicable to fire districts and other political subdivisions in New York.  The schedule–known as MU-1–may be found here.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you consider subscribing by email, liking my page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter. You may also want to subscribe to our firm’s email newsletter, In Confidence, here. You can subscribe to only the topics you are interested in, and from time to time, I write about developments impacting New York municipalities, including fire districts.

Fire District Materials: Batavia Conference 2014

fire service lawsI am once again looking forward to speaking at the Western New York Fire District Officers Legislative Association Workshop in Batavia, New York, on September 27, 2014.  As I did last year, I wanted to write a short post as a resource for those attend.  Unfortunately, several of the documents I intended to reference (with links) are publications of the New York State Comptroller’s Office, and that website seems to be unavailable at the moment.

Although there will be a lot of important topics covered by the panelists, I will focus my remarks on two areas: (1) recent amendments to the procurement statutes; and (2) a general discussion of the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, and its applicability to volunteer fire companies.

Last year, I spent quite a bit of time discussing the expanded “piggybacking” exception to competitive bidding in New York.  Shortly after last year’s conference, the statute was amended again to further expand this exception to include contracts awarded on the basis of “best value” in a manner consistent with New York’s bidding statutes.  Following this amendment, the Comptroller issued an amended bulletin in November 2013, expanding on its earlier discussion.  There is a link to the bulletin in my post from last year, and it should bring you to the updated bulletin.

Shortly before the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013 became effective on July 1, 2014, one of my colleagues wrote an excellent summary of the key provisions of the Act.  A copy of the article, Nonprofit Best Practices Now Mandatory, may be downloaded by following the link.  If you would like to have one of our attorneys review your company’s bylaws and make recommended changes to ensure compliance with the Act, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you consider subscribing by email, liking my page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter.  you may also want to subscribe to our firm’s email newsletter, In Confidence, here.  You can subscribe to only the topics you are interested in, and from time to time, I write about developments impacting New York municipalities, including fire districts.

 

 

Reminder: Open Meetings Law Now Requires Prior Disclosure of Agendas, Proposed Resolutions, and Other Documents

A little over two years ago, I wrote about an amendment to New York’s Open Meetings Law requiring prior disclosure of documents scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of a public body.  As of February 2, 2012, the Open Meetings Law requires public bodies to make certain documents–including agendas as well as any other document scheduled to be discussed at a public meeting–available before or during the meeting when they will be discussed.

Documents, such as proposed resolutions, laws, rules, regulations, policies or any amendments thereto that are scheduled to be discussed during an open session of a public meeting, should be made available upon request “to the extent practicable as determined by the agency or department” prior to or at the meeting during which the records will be discussed.  For more information about the requirements imposed by this amendment, please see my earlier article here.

I’ve had this issue come up several times in the last month or so, and wanted to be sure that my municipal clients are aware of this relatively new requirement.  Failure to comply with this or any other requirement of the Open Meetings Law could result in a court voiding any action taken, and the public body may be required to pay attorney’s fees and attend a training session on the requirements of the Open Meetings Law sponsored by the Committee on Open Government.

Remember to Vote in Fire District Elections Tonight!

If you live in a Town, chances are that your fire service is delivered by a Fire District.  Many people assume that their local fire department is merely another department within their Town’s government.  But, generally around much of Upstate New York, fire service is delivered by a Fire District, which is a separate political subdivision with its own taxing power and a separately elected Board of Fire Commissioners.

Tonight is the night when nearly all local Fire Districts hold their elections for Fire Commissioner.  Sometimes there are other propositions before the voters, like whether to dispose of surplus apparatus, or whether to incur indebtedness for the purpose of constructing a new fire hall or purchasing a new piece of apparatus.

Fire District elections are typically held between the hours of 6pm and 9pm (and can sometimes start earlier), and each Fire District is required to publish a notice of election.  The notice of election is also provided to the clerks of each Town serviced by the Fire District, and the clerks are thereafter required to post the notice on the Town’s website.  Thus, if you are not sure if you live in a Fire District, and want to know where the election will be held, the best place to start may be your Town’s website.  For example, the Town of Penfield is serviced by three Fire Districts: West Webster Fire District, Penfield Fire District, and the North East Joint Fire District.  Notices of election for each district may be accessed from the Penfield Town Clerk’s page here.

NYS Comptroller to Fire Districts: Bond Credit Card Users

Some of you know that I represent a number of fire districts in and around Monroe County.  I have found that one of the best resources for fire district commissioners is the New York State Comptroller’s website.   The website has a lot of useful information, as noted in a prior post.  From time to time, I peruse the latest audit reports available on the website, looking for issues that other districts have faced, so I can advise my clients about these developments and assist the commissioners in carrying out their duties.

When reviewing the latest batch of audits from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, I saw only one audit of a fire district.  Although there were no major criticisms noted, I did take note of a recommendation from the auditors that I wanted to pass along to you.

In this latest fire district audit, the auditors found:

  • The Board-adopted credit card policy authorizes issuing credit cards to certain District officials. The policy states that each credit card purchase is limited to $2,500 and must be documented by submitting a receipt which specifies the purchase date, amount, location, reason, item description, and the purchaser’s name. However, this policy does not require bonding insurance for all individuals who are issued District credit cards. We found that the only individual bonded was the Treasurer.

Therefore, the auditors recommended that the board of fire commissioners amend the district’s credit card policy to require the provision of bonding insurance for any board member, official or employee responsible for using credit cards.  Although I have not seen a specific statutory requirement mandating bonding insurance here, I do think this is a good recommendation if you are going to permit district personnel to use credit cards issued to the district.  If you are a fire district commissioner and would like discuss this issue further, or if you would like to know more about the services provided by our firm, please visit the municipal page of our firm website.  You may also contact me directly by clicking the “contact” tab above.

Fire District Materials: Batavia Conference 2013

I am looking forward to speaking at the Western New York Fire District Legislative Association Workshop tomorrow, and I wanted to write a short post as a resource for those attending.

As I wrote last December, New York expanded the “piggybacking” exception to competitive bidding.  Since that time, a number of fire districts have been approached by vendors offering goods and services under other governmental contracts, claiming that the contract falls within the newly expanded “piggybacking” exception.  But, as the State Comptroller noted, “It is the responsibility of local officials to review each proposed procurement to determine, on advice of the local government’s counsel as appropriate, whether the procurement falls within the exception.”  Thus, we expect to spend quite a bit of time discussing this exception tomorrow, as well as the Comptroller’s November 2012 bulletin discussing this relatively recent amendment.

A copy of the Comptroller’s bulletin may be found here, and I highly recommend reviewing this bulletin before considering whether to make a procurement under this exception to competitive bidding.  It is essential that you also involve counsel in the process.

The Comptroller’s Office has an excellent website, with a lot of very useful publications, and one that I recommend every year at this conference is the Comptroller’s Local Government Management Guide titled, Seeking Competition in Procurement.  This guide was just amended and reissued on May 2013, and it includes a sample procurement policy–which is one of the first things the Comptroller’s Office asks for when they show up at your door to conduct an audit.  This edition of the procurement guide also includes a discussion of the “best value” standard which is now also permitted in New York.

Another topic that will be discussed is the Open Meetings Law.  In the beginning of 2012, the Open Meetings Law was amended to require prior disclosure of agendas, proposed resolutions and other documents.  Shortly after this amendment was enacted, I wrote about it here.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will consider subscribing by email, liking my page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter.  You may also want to subscribe to our firm’s email newsletter, In Confidence, here.  You can subscribe to only the topics you are interested in, and from time to time, I write about developments impacting New York municipalities, including fire districts.

Peter J. Weishaar to be Featured Speaker at Fire District Workshop

On September 21, 2013, I will once again be one of the featured speakers for the annual Western New York Fire District Officers’ Legislative Association Workshop held every year in Batavia.  I always enjoy gathering with friends from Monroe and Erie County fire districts as we discuss the latest developments and issues facing these dedicated officers.

I am expecting a lively discussion, as we review the requirements for the recently enacted expansion of the “piggybacking” exception to competitive bidding.  I wrote about New York’s expansion of this exception last December, and you can find my article here.  A number of fire districts have been considering whether to use this exception to purchase fire apparatus under non-NY governmental contracts, and there are many issues to consider in close consultation with counsel before proceeding.

We will also discuss the latest Comptroller Audits and several other issues, including some of the rules applicable to LOSAP funds.  I hope to see you there.

About my practice:  I represent several fire districts in the Greater Rochester Area.  In addition to fire districts, my municipal practice also includes the ongoing representation of planning and zoning boards, as well as the representation of municipalities as special counsel in litigation matters.

This publication is intended as an information source for clients, prospective clients, and colleagues and constitutes attorney advertising.  The content should not be considered legal advice and readers should not act upon information in this publication without individualized professional counsel.

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