Old Lyme - The Board of Selectmen has supported a plan to boost the annual pension payments for the town's volunteer firefighters and ambulance association members and review those benefits on an annual basis.
The 61 active members of the town's Volunteer Fire Department and Volunteer Ambulance Association receive $660 per year in pension payments under the current system.
On Monday, the selectmen approved a plan to raise the yearly pension benefits to $864 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, as well as tie yearly increases to the raises of Town Hall employees.
The town's Volunteer Incentive Committee, charged with making recommendations for incentives to the Board of Selectmen, first met in January after two fire department members, Skip Beebe and Rick Colangeli, brought the issue of reviewing benefits and the criteria for benefits' eligibility to the attention of the selectmen.
The town, which began the pension for volunteers in 2004, last increased their benefits during the 2009-10 fiscal year. While payments increased by about 3 percent during some years, there were other periods prior to fiscal year 2010 when the volunteers had no increases.
Under the committee's calculations presented to the board Monday, pension payments would equal $880 for the 2014-15 fiscal year and $896 for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The committee calculated those payments based on a formula that factored in an amount accounting for years without increases and planned for a 2 percent yearly increase based on Town Hall employee raises.
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder praised the volunteers and said their work has led to better ratings for the town from the Insurance Services Office. The town relies on its volunteers, especially apparent during the recent blizzard and Superstorm Sandy, she said.
"I think what we have here is a matter of philosophy," said Reemsnyder, explaining that the proposal reflects how the town respects and compensates its volunteers. She spoke in support of an incentive that could help people "consider more strongly" becoming a volunteer.
In addition to pensions, the incentive committee plans to review the town's retirement plan and tax abatement incentives. Departments will also review internally their criteria for benefits eligibility, based on a point system, before discussing them with the committee, according to Selectman Skip Sibley, an ex-officio member of the committee.
The selectmen's recommendation Monday will now go to the Board of Finance.