Old Lyme reviewing benefits for volunteers

Old Lyme - The town has formed a new committee to review benefits for volunteers of the fire department and ambulance association.

At the committee's first meeting Monday, members from the town's Volunteer Fire Department, Volunteer Ambulance Association and Board of Finance discussed potential changes to the incentive program. They plan to recommend a proposal to the Board of Selectmen by Feb. 11.

Volunteer fire and ambulance members may receive benefits, including annual pension stipends, tax abatement and insurance for work accidents. But, committee members said, benefits such as pension payments have only increased twice in about 12 years. If the members received an annual increase in benefits, the payments would be higher this year, committee chairman Skip Beebe explained.

Beebe, a former fire department chief and president, had approached the Board of Selectmen this fall along with fire department member Rick Colangeli, about improving benefits for members.

Beebe had asked the town to enhance benefits for members, "because they are volunteers, and, any call, they may not come home. We need to make sure we take the best care of them we can."

Selectman Skip Sibley, an ex-officio committee member, said it would be fairly easy to reach a consensus among the committee members that the current incentive program is inadequate.

Sibley highlighted the importance of providing incentives to ensure the town retains current members and recruits new members for these two important public services. The committee discussed determining an annual review process and a payment index.

Under one recommendation under consideration, an an annual monetary increase would be set for a few years to raise the pension payment to a specific goal. After that, the town could use a different index.

Tying increases in benefits to those of town hall employees was one suggestion. If the town hall employees don't receive a raise because of the town's financial situation, the ambulance members and volunteer firefighters would not receive an increase in benefits either, Beebe said.

The committee members plan to continue discussions about the issue at their next meeting.

k.drelich@theday.com

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