MINT HILL – Town commissioners unanimously passed a resolution March 14 opposing state legislation that would create a new retirement benefit for firefighters and rescue squad workers.
Senate Bill 179 and House Bill 278, identical bills commonly referred to as “Parity for First Responders,” would create a special separation allowance for firefighters and rescue squad workers.
The town’s resolution states the legislation is an unfunded mandate and would be costly to the town. Earlier this year, the board that governs the Local Government Employees Retirement system, which includes firefighters, required municipalities to increase their funding to the current retirement system by 1.2 percent in each of the next three years.
Town Manager Brian Welch said Mint Hill hasn’t yet calculated what the impact would be on the town if the legislation becomes law. However, in sending an opposition letter to legislators, the city of High Point said if the Parity for First Responders legislation becomes law, it will cost High Point an additional $1.2 million a year.
The town’s resolution states municipalities already have the authority to implement this benefit and the legislation gives the town no say in the matter.
“Our logic with it is it is an unfunded mandate for a special retirement just for firemen,” Welch said. “Our philosophy, at least in Mint Hill, has always been that we like to treat all of our employees the same.”
If it becomes law, the legislation would allow firefighters with at least 30 years of service and those 60 and older with at least 25 years of service to retire early and receive separation benefits until their current retirement benefits kick in.
Tom Brewer, who is president of the Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina and the president of Charlotte Fire Fighters Local 660, said law enforcement has been receiving this benefit for over 30 years. Local 660 represents over 750 firefighters in the city of Charlotte.
“This is parity for first responders,” Brewer said. “It provides a separation allowance between the time you retire and age 62 until you can go on Medicaid. This would help us supplement our health insurance, and it would allow us to retire with dignity. If you don’t have health insurance, you wouldn’t be able to retire.
“As we get older, our bodies after 30 years of getting up-and-down on a rig, climbing ladders and pulling hose, your body breaks down. As we stay longer, we are more apt to have an injury and other things.”
Brewer said his organization is disappointed but not surprised local municipalities are opposing the legislation.
“If you go back to 1986 when this legislation was passed for law enforcement, municipalities were given two half-cent sales taxes,” Brewer said. “Those two half-cent sales taxes are now valued at over $1 billion annually. That money was meant to pay for separation allowance. If you go back to when this (law enforcement) legislation was passed, they were supposed to come back in the next year and give firefighters (the benefit). The promise was never delivered. We are asking the state to fulfill a promise and to give us parity with law enforcement.”
The legislation states the new retirement benefit would be paid solely by the last employer and Welch said that would be a deterrent in hiring late-career firefighters.
“Whatever municipality they last work for is on the hook for the full amount,” Welch said.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities said last year it would oppose the proposed new benefit unless funding is provided.