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Audit questions Southampton firefighters’ pension credits

Southampton Village officials did not accurately award benefit points to more than two dozen volunteer firefighters, allowing at least 12 of them to receive pension-related credits they did not qualify for, according to an audit by the New York State Comptroller’s office.

The village’s point system for the LOSAP, or length of service award program — a $2.4 million village-funded program that provides a monthly pension to volunteer firefighters — does not comply with general municipal law, according to the audit.

The points system determines how much money volunteer firefighters receive in benefits once they turn 65. Firefighters must earn at least 50 points per year — through participating in certain activities, such as training courses and teaching fire prevention classes — to be credited with a year of service. They then receive $30 per month for each year of service, with a maximum benefit of $1,200 per month.

After reviewing award program records for 47 of the 138 volunteer firefighters between June 1, 2015, and May 31, 2016, the comptroller’s office said village officials gave too many points for activities such as serving on committees and attending fire prevention meetings. They also awarded points for “miscellaneous activities,” such as donating blood, taking down holiday decorations and being fitted for shirts, a category that is allowed under general municipal law but that was not adopted into the village’s points system.

“As a result of these deficiencies, volunteer firefighters may not be properly receiving LOSAP points for certain qualifying activities,” said the audit, which was released Tuesday. “Twelve of the 47 volunteer firefighters did not meet the 50-point minimum and therefore have not received accurate LOSAP service credit, which may result in their potential loss of future benefits or, conversely, in the Village incurring more LOSAP costs than necessary.”

Village officials must submit a corrective action plan to the comptroller’s office within 90 days.

Fire Chief Christopher Brenner said village officials are working with the comptroller’s office to bring the length of service award program up to current general municipal law and will hire a law firm to help write the new policy.

“The department has been very good, and they understand this needs to get done and we are moving forward with it,” Brenner said Thursday.

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