Proposal Seeks to Change How Cities Can Use Fire State Aid

The state Fire Relief Association Working Group will take public testimony about the proposed changes at its Nov. 8 meeting.
(Published Oct 28, 2019)

The Office of the State Auditor’s Fire Relief Association Working Group plans to discuss a proposal to modify eligible uses of fire state aid at a Nov. 8 meeting.

Under the proposal, employers with “combination” fire departments (those with career and paid-on-call or volunteer firefighters) could use fire state aid for contributions to retirement benefits for both employee groups. Under existing law, cities that have firefighters in relief association plans may use their fire state aid to make retirement contributions only to the relief plan.

This proposal would impact cities that have some firefighters in a relief plan and also have firefighters in the Public Employees Retirement Association Police and Fire Plan (PERA P&F). The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) estimates there are 78 combination departments in Minnesota.

League supports proposal

The proposal to offer more flexible uses of fire state aid came from a report released by the Fire State Aid Work Group convened by PERA as part of a 2018 legislative mandate.

—View the Fire State Aid Work Group (pdf)

The League of Minnesota Cities supports the proposal because it would give cities with evolving fire service models more discretion over how to use fire state aid. (Note: The City of Austin secured special legislation in 2019 to use fire state aid for PERA P&F and relief association contributions.)

The meeting

The Fire Relief Association Working Group’s meeting, which is open to the public, will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the Retirement Systems of Minnesota Building Board Room, 60 Empire Drive, St. Paul.

The working group will take written and oral testimony from the public at the meeting.

About the working group

The OSA has convened the Fire Relief Association Working Group since 2004. Members are appointed by the OSA, and they represent municipalities, relief associations with various plan structures (defined benefit lump sum, defined benefit monthly/lump sum combination and defined contribution), the State Fire Chiefs Association, the State Fire Department Association, and the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR). It is chaired by the state auditor.

According to the OSA’s website, the group exists to bring together the major volunteer fire relief association stakeholders to develop relationships, open communication, discuss relief association issues, and make the pension process easier and more effective by:

  • Clarifying applicable state laws.
  • Simplifying reporting forms.
  • Discussing training opportunities.
  • Addressing any other relevant issues.

The working group does not have authority to modify rules or laws related to fire relief associations; however, they do develop legislative proposals each year that get considered by the LCPR, the legislative body that assembles public pensions and retirement bills for the full House and Senate.

They have a longstanding practice of only forwarding recommendations that have consensus among the members present. The group’s recommendations carry weight with legislators and fire service stakeholders.

Get involved

If your city would be impacted by this proposal and you would like to provide written comments or testimony to the working group, please contact League staff member Anne Finn at (651) 281-1263 or afinn@lmc.org.

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