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Back pension will go to firefighters

The Town of Hamburg will pay $220,000 in back pension to volunteer firefighters in the Lake Shore Volunteer Fire Company who had been denied pension credits after they turned 55.

The payment covers a 16-year period, starting when the pension system was enacted in 1991, through 2007.

John Wall, president of the Lake Shore unit, said he did not know how many members of the 79-member fire company will receive the payments.

"We've got quite a few [eligible]," he said, adding that the number is less than half the membership.

The Town Board approved the payment during its meeting last week. However, the details of the individual restitution remain to be worked out with the fire company's insurer, Wall said.

He referred the question to program administrator Jeffrey E. Dinan, who could not be reached to comment.

According to town records, the practice of denying service credits to senior firefighters ended in 2007. The fire company administers the award program with funds paid by the town.

The practice of shutting off credits at a certain age amounts to age discrimination, the Town Board decided. Firefighters can begin collecting benefits at 55, but they also can continue being active members of a fire company.

"After 55, they were still volunteering, still working and fighting fires," said Councilman Kevin S. Smardz, sponsor of the back-pay resolution and the board's liaison to fire companies.

"A resolution like this takes away the discrimination factor -- you just can't do it," he said.

Other fire companies in Hamburg and in other towns have sought similar makeup payments, he said. In 2007, Hamburg approved retroactive payment for Big Tree Fire Company members, meeting records show.

The monthly award under the program equals $20 per year of service, to a maximum of $600 a month.

The state enacted the award programs in an effort to slow the decline in membership facing volunteer fire departments, which provide most emergency services in suburban areas. Local governments may choose to be part of an award program or not.

Hamburg established its Service Award Program by referendum in 1991. The town's resolution states that the makeup payment, covering 1991 through 2007, will be paid over 10 years, with the first payment of $22,000 starting this year.

The payments will bring the annual cost of the program to a maximum of $147,000, the resolution states.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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