FARMINGTON — Selectmen on Tuesday evening took no action on making local contributions to a state retirement program for part-time firefighters because they want more information.

Selectman Stephan Bunker said the issue should have been revisited when the town meeting warrant was approved.

At the Feb. 7 special board meeting there was discussion about a Length of Service Award Program, a supplemental retirement program for firefighters paid through the federal government, the state and municipalities, according to minutes of the meeting. The minutes note municipalities do not have to contribute.

“Firefighters enrolled will have an account that would gain points depending on what is contributed,” the minutes state. “It was created as an incentive to combat the issue of recruitment of volunteers. The program uses a point system that is a compilation of how long they participate, how many calls, trainings, and meetings they attend, which then indicate if they have met minimum participation.”

Bunker gave two options for local contributions: voters amend the Fire Department’s budget to include funds at the annual town meeting or Select Board votes to use money left in that budget at the end of the year.

“I want to see a policy first, see how we are going to do it,” Chairman Matthew Smith said. “We can still reward the people that need to be rewarded. I am really hesitant on putting a number on it right now.”


Selectman Joshua Bell said he appreciates paying firefighters per call and had no issue with them signing up for the state portion. However, he wasn’t sure why the town should contribute.

“Why not just increase their wage?” he asked. “Why enter into some type of retirement plan that we are getting committed to for a long time?”

The town changed from a volunteer force to basically full-time with a few per diem firefighters, Bell said.

Selectman Dennis O’Neil wanted more information, particularly on the financial side. Bookkeeping and tracking percentage of calls and training for each firefighter could be complicated, he said.

“There is no continued obligation,” Town Manager Erica LaCroix said. “It is not a traditional retirement plan, there is no ability for the employee to put into it. The state portion is what is mandated. You can decide to fund it on a year-to-year basis.”

Towns make their own policy for distributing funds, that is the part that needs to be developed, she said. Other part-time employees aren’t offered retirement or health benefits. Increasing the per-call hourly rate could cost more since the town pays taxes on that, she said.


Farmington firefighters have been enrolled in the state program, LaCroix said.

“There is the part that we need to encourage firefighters,” she said. “Even with full-time department, we still ride on having a call force, making sure these jobs stay attractive.”

Bunker said he is concerned with the message being sent to some firefighters.

“You gave your full-time employees in last year’s budget a considerable increase in our contributions to let them go up to a higher retirement program,” he said. “Yet this year you are doing nothing for your per diem or part-time employees.”

Waiting until the end of the year to decide how much money to put into the Length of Service Award Program wastes a whole year, he said.

Volunteerism in the fire service has decreased, Bunker said.


Length of Service Award Program provides modest state contributions and possibly more generous town ones so firefighters today can have something to look forward to at the end of 20 or more years of service, he said.

According to a Maine government website on the program’s legislative history, in April 2003 the Maine Fire Services Commission commissioned a study of the need in Maine. The study outlined feasibility and gave implementation recommendations.

In the 127th legislative session that began in 2015, the award program was established at the state level, according to the site. “In the first legislative session under the 129th Legislature LD 1014 was submitted to fund the estimated $2.5 million cost of the program,” it said.

Gov. Janet Mills added $1.5 million for the program in her supplemental budget in January 2020 but because of COVID-19 the money was not appropriated, the site said. Another bill was submitted to secure the $2.5 million to operate the program. In her budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, $500,000 was added to start the program, with another $1.5 million added to the budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the site indicates.

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